Tony's Take

DARK WATERS review

The Truth Has a Man on the Inside

Having just made partner in his prestigious, defense law firm, Robert Bilott (Mark Ruffalo) is confronted by a few concerned farmers; imploring him to look into the mysterious death of his livestock.  Initially discrediting the findings, the harder he searched the more he discovered the presence of a hidden truth.  An unidentified chemical compound, named PFOA/C-8, is found to have been disposed of illegally and may be effecting more than just the animal life.  More importantly, it is crucial in every Teflon product that is already used across the country.  With the blessing of his boss Tom Terp (Tim Robbins) and his wife Sarah (Anne Hathaway), he takes-on the plaintiff side as he brings litigation to the Dupont Corporation.  When professional contact turned aggravated defendant Phil Donnelly (Victor Garber) is forced by court order to turn over all documents.  His research leads to the ultimate discovery, but one that comes with severe risk; as he may alienate all of his allies in the process.  This terrifying true story continues to unfold as the townsfolk continue to suffer from Dupont’s negligence.

“Dark Waters” is Hollywood’s latest legal drama; focusing on a true story and the courageous exploits of one man.  That man is Robert Bilott; encapsulated by Ruffalo’s strong leading performance.  You can sense this may be a passion project for him, as he abandons his usual charm for the awkward and intellectual Bilott that he portrays with a fiery passion.  While having screen time, Hathaway takes full advantage and finally has another role for her to sink her teeth into, putting her emotional range on full display.  The extended cast features Robbins, Bill Pullman, Garber, Mare Winningham, and Bill Camp among others; rounding out a strong, well-cast ensemble.  While the film featured some strong performances and tackled very serious subject matter, it lacked the necessary “spark” to separate itself from the films that have come before it.  “Erin Brockovich” covered a very similar case, but it did so memorably and not following a formula, but by creating its own.

Unfortunately Todd Haynes gives us a by-the-numbers recount of the case that loses its case to be remembered.  It delivers inn educating countless about Billot’s efforts, but it did so more by acting as a PSA than by resonating with people.  Quite possibly the most incredible thing about the film is how deeply it hits; I found myself multiple times thinking about the prevalence of non-stick technology in our homes and wondering if it’s still harmful.  It gave me a truly sickening feeling and made me question throwing it right in the trash when I got home.  The film also struggled with uneven pacing, with drags located a few times throughout during its 126 minute runtime.  While failing to be remarkable, “Dark Waters” is still an entertaining, moving drama with a strong cast.

While it may get lost in the shuffle during this busy awards season, the story of Robert Billot and his incredible pursuit of the truth should be a well-known story and hopefully Todd Haynes’ film finds the audience it deserves.

 3/5

DARK WATERS is rated PG-13 for thematic content, some disturbing images and strong language, in theaters NOVEMBER 27TH!