Cert – 12, Run-time – 2 hours 6 minutes, Director – Todd Haynes
A corporate environmental lawyer (Mark Ruffalo) takes on one of the biggest chemical companies in America when it’s revealed that they’re poisoning the water of a town in Virginia
Dark Waters is a shocking film, there’s no denying that. There’s something about seeing the rotted teeth and insides of a cow, due to poisoned water, that only begins to start off the true effects of chemical giant Dupont dumping chemicals into the water of Petersburg, Virginia; affecting the health and lives of those living there. As you learn more about the company over the course of the film it’ll possibly make you think twice before next using a frying pan – even if not made by part of the company – or even drinking water. But, Dark Waters doesn’t dwell on the shock and affects of the knowing poisoning. Instead it focuses on the way it pushes and frustrates corporate environmental lawyer Robert Bilott (Mark Ruffalo).
Bilott finds himself representing farmer Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp) after 190 of his cows are killed from the water in the stream that runs through his farm. While the film has a number of good performances from big name stars it’s Camp who steals the show in every scene in which he appears. Robert finds himself going against not only one of the biggest chemical companies in America at the time, if not the world, but also one of the companies that his firm, of which he is close to being made a partner of, represents. When the repercussions of this lead to tense relationships with those around him, including with his wife (Anne Hathaway) things begin to take a turn for the worst; especially when it comes to the severity of the full extent of Dupont’s actions.
As with Tom McCarthy’s Best Picture winning Spotlight back in 2016 sometimes the most action can be found in someone running to a photocopier, or possibly in this case Ruffalo foraging through stacks of old documents in order to find data and evidence relating to Duponts actions. There’s a fair deal of tension to be found within such events, especially within the way that director Todd Haynes captures this with limited, yet effective camera use. Often using a wide-shot or birds-eye-view to capture the enormity of the situation at hand.
Despite this Dark Waters lacks the tension, or perhaps suspense that a film like this seems to want. It doesn’t quite have the captivating intrigue of a film like Spotlight, or other legal dramas in a similar vein. While there are some interesting points there are occasionally moments which seem to pander or go on for too long, leaving the gap until the legal disputes – the highlights of the film – much longer. It’s such legal moments, battles in court and the true focus on the feuds between the company and citizens and lawyers, and indeed lawyers within the firm having something of a civil feud, that are the most interesting. Bringing the viewer into the world as Ruffalo’s situation becomes increasingly tense and prolonged over many years.
A prolonged feeling is something which does lie in some of the scenes of the film. Some seeming slightly too long and giving the film a feeling that it might be a bit too long itself. This is admittedly a slightly slow-burn, and while in some scenes this is effective in others it does seem to hinder the progress. Scenes that could do with slightly faster pacing to heat up the ‘action’ that’s unfolding on-screen. To further intensify the situation and make for a more engaging and intriguing story. While there’s a fair bit to enjoy within the film, there’s a fair deal that could be improved with some fast pacing, which is possibly the biggest downfall of the film. While the performances, direction and screenplay as a whole are good. The overall pacing is somewhat slow at times, which does prove damaging during some scenes and the overall feeling of the run-time of the film. There’s a fair deal of interest and intrigue in the film, however there are one or two things that prevent full impact.
Dark Waters is definitely an interesting film, and there are a number of shocking moments. However, the slow pacing of some of the non-legal moments do prevent from a full-punch impact.