If you were to describe Dark Waters to someone who has not seen the trailer or the film, you could say it is Spotlight (2016) meets Erin Brockovich (2000), which is exactly how it was put to me. Loving both of those movies I was really looking forward to watching this.
The film is based on a true story about a farmer in West Virginia who through desperation gets in touch with a corporate lawyer, recommended to him by an acquaintance of the lawyer’s grandmother. The lawyer in question is Mark Ruffalo’s Rob Billot, who has just become a partner in the law firm he works for. He looks into the farmers allegations; that the billion-dollar DuPont Corporation are dumping chemicals near his farm and are poisoning his cows. What comes from his investigation is over a decade long journey to find the truth and justice for the people who have been affected by what turns out to be a colossal scandal. DuPont it seems have been poisoning the local water for years with a chemical that is unregulated and they know is extremely dangerous to humans and animals of which they have the proof in their extensive archives, all of which Rob works his way through.
Dark Waters is not a fast-paced film, in fact it is very slow, almost all talk, in a slow burner that drip feeds the facts, this could turn some people off. It may be why the trailer has been given a thriller like element to it. This is not a thriller, but the subject matter is such that you are drawn into the horror of the truth. It is eye opening and the fact that it really happened is disgraceful and worrying, it is the type of film that has you reaching for your phone to do your own research and fact checking.
Todd Haynes (Carol – 2015) as he does with all his movies has created a very specific tone here, it is dark and depressing, there are no bright colours, everything appears washed out. This emphasises the overall feeling in the town effected by DuPont, there is little or no life to it, no energy. The cast are all stellar, Mark Ruffalo is great as the real-life lawyer whose life is completely changed overnight by the case he takes on. He shows with a subtle nuanced performance, the impact it is having on him both mentally and physically. Anne Hathaway plays his wife, she has a few scenes where she really lets loose, but it is the typical stay at home wife part here for the most part. The cast is rounded out by a number of well- known faces including Tim Robbins and Bill Pullman both of whom are on good form.
There is nothing wrong with this film per say, but as I said at the start it will remind you of Spotlight and Erin Brockovich, and it will also remind you of how well this kind of film can be done and how both do it better. I cannot pinpoint why this story doesn’t reach the heights of those films as the formula is very much the same. Perhaps the lead character is a little to quiet and subtle, you will back him, but you don’t root for him like to would Erin Brockovich.
All in all, I very much enjoyed the movie, it was indeed eye-opening, and I would recommend seeing it for its topic alone. This is the type of film I love to watch, an investigative film based on a true story and the fight for justice for the underdog. If that sounds like your thing definitely give this a watch. It will probably be quite shocking, though people in America are probably more aware of the story as it will have been reported everywhere on their news. However, it is maybe something that overseas audiences are not familiar with, it is certainly disturbing to say the least.