Released: 5th March
Seen: 30th August
In 2005, chemical company DuPont was fined $16.5 million by the EPA for, essentially, poisoning the water supply of a town with Perfluorooctanoic Acid, a chemical used to create teflon. They were forced to pay this, along with several other settlements with people who they poisoned, thanks to a civil suit filed by Robert Bilott way back in 1999. The full scope of the poisoning and what it did to the people affected by it wouldn’t be known for years and the entire story is one of negligence and capitalism run rampant in a story we’ve heard time and time again, told in the film Dark Waters with a passion that cannot be denied.
Dark Waters details the case from the first moment Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp) walked into Robert Bilott’s (Mark Ruffalo) office until 2015 when Robert won the first three cases that led to a monstrous settlement. Throughout the film, the evils that this company got away with are slowly exposed in scenes that could be lifted out of a horror film with ease. Taking us through discovery, hearings and meeting with the locals we’re shown the lengths certain companies will go through to avoid liability, and how hard people have to fight in order to get them to pay for their actions. While this film is all about the DuPont case, the story is one that applies to many other companies and that notion is hammered into the audience’s head as often as possible.
Every scene is almost scientifically designed to elicit outrage and anger and it does so with gusto. From seeing what this chemical does to ravage the bodies of cows to hearing stories about how it caused women to need hysterectomies, it paints a bleak picture that doesn’t let up. It also makes sure to take time to show the toll the case itself had, how people shunned the farmer who raised the alarm and how it almost gave the lawyer a stroke from the stress among a litany of other things. Every scene just grabs you by the throat and demands that you witness what DuPont did and god damn is it effective.
Most of what makes Dark Waters effective is just how you can see in Marc Ruffalo’s eyes how horrified he is. Part of it doesn’t even feel like he’s acting since we know Marc Ruffalo is a very political person, this feels like the kind of political story that he would be into but that real world connection only seems to help strengthen his performance (Also, he’s now tied with Scarlett Johanssen for “Best Post-Endgame film by an Avenger… not that the competition’s been doing that well). It’s one of those performances that just carries you through the film, you root for and trust him every step of the way. When he wants to make you cry, you’re going to cry and when he wants to make you tense up because he’s about to start a car and has no idea if it’s been tampered with, you’re going to tense up until he’s done.
There are no pulled punches here, Dark Waters knows who the bad guy is and aims both barrels at it every chance possible. It’s not interested in trying to show both sides, it’s picked a side (The right side in this case) and it’s not ashamed of it. What puts Dark Waters a step above others like it is that this isn’t just calling out the company that did the bad thing, but the system that actively encouraged their behavior. It lays into both of them and does it powerfully.
Dark Waters is the kind of film that makes me want to say “Everyone should see this” over and over again. Not only should everyone see it because it’s a genuinely great film with some incredible performances by a stellar cast and a lot of great visuals (although yes, it’s probably a little longer than it needed to be) but just as a reminder of what big corporations really care about. It might not be the happiest movie, but it’s definitely an important one.