Dark Waters 2019 ***

This film remains in a UK slot selected to take advantage of an Oscar campaign, a campaign which never actually materialised; that’s a big shock in that director Todd Haynes has been an awards darling via I’m Not There or Carol. Critics seem to have turned up their noses at Dark Waters because it doesn’t feature the director’s usual extravagances; the lush 1950’s period detail of Carol, the off-beat asides about Oscar Wilde and aliens in Velvet Goldmine. But Haynes has a pre-occupation with alienation and the environment that runs back to 1995’s Safe, and just because he’s fused these concerns with a tried and tested Erin Brockovich-type detective story doesn’t mean we should relegate Dark Waters to the status of a minor work.

The Spotlight producers are at work here, as is the same star, Mark Ruffalo, who plays Robert Bilott, a lawyer who gets wind that there’s something in the water in his West Virginia hometown. He travels back, and runs foul of various authority figures who don’t want word getting out that the something in the water is created by the manufacture of Teflon, and careless dumping procedures have affected a whole generation. Bill Pullman does a great job as the chemical-plant baddie, while Anne Hathaway doesn’t have much to do as Billott’s long-suffering wife.

As with Spotlight, much of the film is spent watching Ruffalo looking through large piles of paper, yet break-throughs are fewer and further between. But the star is good as always, and the point of the film, that criminal activities go on in plain sight until we make a point of investigating, is worth considering. It’s frustrating that when Haynes wants to depict literary or cultural figures, the world pays rapt attention, but when he has something to say about genuine issues ie the environment, pundits seem to think he’s treading water. He’s a big-name director, and even if this film is a little dry, it’s a modern, meaningful film about a genuinely concerning issue.


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  1. Well done for calling attention to this movie and exposing of lawlessness of big corps. ‘I hear the whistle blowers, coming round the bend’…keep blowing holes in the dyke of greed and lack of humanity for fellow beings. It’s time that the family that started out in the 1800s manufacturing gunpowder gets their DuePont soon… I will add Dark Waters to my WB collection: China Syndrome, All the Pres Men, The Firm, Serpico, Snowden, A Civil Action…

    • That’s exactly where this movie should be. It’s charged, angry and articulate. I suppose some people are fed up with hearing about these issues, but film dramatises events and makes you care, and it’s shocking that the same things are allowed to happen over and over again in the name of greed. Thanks!

  2. Thanks for this Greg! Fully agree. Ruffalo does some great work here, and yet somehow the whole package has been dismissed as being too familiar. Why are such hot topics ignored by supposedly switched-on critics? Glad I’m not the only one who sees virtues here…

  3. Liquid puns aside, I feel the same way about this film. It’s staggering to think that a single company poisoned the world so that we wouldn’t have to scrub pans. And more staggering that audiences aren’t appalled. Ruffalo deserves great credit here as this is not a “popular” role. Fat, balding, white guys do not much the hero make. Yet his transformation from defender of the rich and famous to defender of the poor and anonymous is fantastic. No Oscar? No problem: this film needed to be made.

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