Dark Waters

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

Dark Waters
dir Todd Haynes
scr Mario Correa, Matthew Michael Carnahan
prd Mark Ruffalo, Pamela Koffler, Christine Vachon, Jeff Skoll
with Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, Bill Pullman, Victor Garber, Bill Camp, Mare Winningham, William Jackson Harper, John Newberg, Kevin Crowley, Brian Gallagher, Elizabeth Marvel
release US 22.Nov.19,
UK 28.Feb.20
19/US Participant 2h06

hathaway robbins pullman

camp and ruffalo
One of those important movies that gets the blood boiling, this film recounts the true-life story of the tenacious lawyer who spent more than 15 years seeking justice in a American badly tilted toward cash-rich corporations that think they can do whatever they want. The story is skilfully told, with sharp writing and directing and a strong cast that never overplays the drama. And it really gets under the skin.
In 1998 Cincinnati, lawyer Robert Bilott (Ruffalo) is representing multinational chemical companies like DuPont when Wilbur (Camp), a friend of his grandmother, contacts him from West Virginia with a complaint about toxic runoff from one of DuPont's dump sites. Investigating, Robert decides to take on his former client, even though they have money, power and government connections that help them muddle the story, deflect the truth and delay their responsibility. The truth is that according to their own studies, the chemicals they discard into drinking water sources are permanently harmful to humans.
As Robert wages this one-man crusade, there are only a handful of side characters, including his patient lawyer wife (Hathaway), his dubious but loyal boss (Robbins) and a prickly Dupont executive (Garber). Director Haynes keeps the story focussed tightly on Robert, a man who is underestimated by everyone around him, which only adds to his stress levels. This kind of limits the film's scope, as it feels like a very long series of conversations broken up with some driving.

Ruffalo gives a wonderfully focussed performance as an impassioned man for whom everything is harder than it should be. His deferent approach reveals that he's a deeply nice man, which explains why people think they can ignore him. Hathaway and Robbins have terrific moments all their own, but their characters are locked in step with Ruffalo's journey. And while Pullman gets to chomp on some scenery as another lawyer, he thankfully resists stealing focus.

Haynes has a tight grip on the story, never rushing and keeping characters at the centre. It's a tricky balance for a movie in which the most important action set-piece features a pudgy lawyer sorting through towering boxes of files, but Haynes makes this sequence thrilling without any contrivance. This says a lot for the power of the script and performances as well. And of course the themes get deeply under the skin, inspiring us to do whatever we can to stop these villains from getting away with murder.

cert 12 themes, language 4.Dec.19

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall