In this gripping real-life thriller, Mark Ruffalo plays a lawyer who takes on the company that dumped toxic chemicals in West Virginia for decades.
Todd Haynes is such a distinctive authorial voice in American cinema, a genius from left field, notably addressing identity and sexuality, and with an interest in fantasy, pastiche and the vicissitudes of period detail. Dark Waters is in so many ways out of character for him: a straight-ahead, true-life legal thriller, fluently adapted by screenwriters Mario Correa and Matthew Michael Carnahan from a New York Times magazine article by Nathaniel Rich.
It plays out in the absorbing classic style, featuring the principled lawyer (played here by Mark Ruffalo) taking on the corporate bad guys on behalf of ordinary folks. There are no ironically self-aware stylistic touches, although – given that it is a film about bad things being hidden in the waters – the first scene with young people rashly swimming in a poisoned creek could allude to the opening of Jaws.
Rob Bilott (Ruffalo) is the besuited corporate lawyer from Ohio who has built a blandly prosperous career in the 1990s representing big, powerful companies. But then an angry West Virginia farmer called Wilbur Tennant (ferociously played by Bill Camp) gets in touch, because he is a friend and neighbour of Bilott’s grandma. (In real life, Tennant just called Bilott on the phone; the movie has him show up embarrassingly in the office in his dusty
farmer’s gear.) All of Wilbur’s cows are being horribly poisoned because of chemical firm DuPont’s nearby plant. Something truly evil is going on…