Dark Waters: A Warning For All Americans

Mark Ruffalo stars as "Robert Bilott" in director Todd Haynes' DARK WATERS, a Focus Features release. Credit: Mary Cybulski/Focus Features

Dark Waters is a warning for All Americans and shows what happens when the federal government allows corporate regulation to go unchecked.

A corporate environmental defense attorney from Taft Stettinius & Hollister is probably the last person to take on Big Chem.  Yet this is exactly what Rob Bilott (Mark Ruffalo) did.  While he was originally doing something as a favor to an acquaintance of his grandmother’s it became bigger than anyone could ever have expected.  Once Rob took on Wilbur Tennant’s (Bill Camp) case, he would see things through in the battle against DuPont.  A community of 70,000 suffered because of toxic C-8 being dumped into their water.  People got sick and died because of this.

While it may be against their own interests to take on Big Chem, supervising partner Tom Terp (Tim Robbins) has his back.  When James Ross (William Jackson Harper) questions whether they should take on DuPont, it’s Terp who stresses the corruption and willful negligence that took place:

“We’re always arguing that these companies are people.  These people have crossed the line.  To hell with them!”

A battle that would start in 1998 took well over a decade before justice would be served.  Of course, it wouldn’t be possible without the help from local attorneys Larry Winter (Kevin Crowley) and Harry Dietzler (Bill Pullman).  All through this time, the marriage between Rob and Sarah (Anne Hathaway) Bilott would be tested.  There are times–while viewing–that one assumes a divorce could happen at any moment.  A scary moment comes when Rob collapses in Tom’s office.  Despite the stress and tension at hand, Tom is there at the hospital.

It was with great interest that I watched Dark Waters because Parkersburg, W. Va. is less than 300 miles away from my home town.  I spent my final three years of college just south of Cincinnati, Ohio.  The fact that DuPont was allowed to get away with dumping toxic waste for so long is disgusting.  This also speaks to the amount of money that corporations spend to buy protection.  One has to wonder why the Environmental Protection Agency turned a blind eye.  Aren’t they supposed to be the agency that protects us?

Dark Waters also continues a trend in 2019 of films based on magazine articles.  In this case, it’s a 2016 article, “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare,” in The New York Times Magazine by Nathaniel Rich.

Dark Waters fits nicely alongside legal thrillers A Civil Action and Erin Brockovich.  Sure the films would make for a great triple feature about our drinking water.  At the same time, it ought to remind us that we can’t let corporations get away with poisoning our water supply.

DIRECTOR:  Todd Haynes
SCREENWRITERS:  Mario Correa and Matthew Michael Carnahan
CAST:  Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, Bill Camp, Victor Garber, Mare Winningham, William Jackson Harper, and Bill Pullman

Focus Features opens Dark Waters in theaters on November 22, 2019.  Grade: 4/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.