sun 29/03/2020

Dark Waters review - an ominous drama with plenty of backbone, but not enough flesh | reviews, news & interviews

Dark Waters review - an ominous drama with plenty of backbone, but not enough flesh

Dark Waters review - an ominous drama with plenty of backbone, but not enough flesh

Mark Ruffalo stars as a remarkable American hero in the latest whistleblower flick

Mary Cybulski (Focus Features)

Watching Dark Waters, the latest film from director Todd Haynes (Carol, Far from Heaven), I kept thinking — what’s the opposite of a love letter? The film is based on the work of Rob Bilott, a real-life lawyer who uncovered a corruption scandal so toxic that it was literally poisoning us.

Watching Dark Waters, the latest film from director Todd Haynes (Carol, Far from Heaven), I kept thinking — what’s the opposite of a love letter? The film is based on the work of Rob Bilott, a real-life lawyer who uncovered a corruption scandal so toxic that it was literally poisoning us. Dark Waters stars Mark Ruffalo as Bilott, and it functions as a dignified takedown of DuPont: the chemical giant responsible for the poison.

This is a legal procedural that reads like a horror story. It’s Frankenstein-ish in its terrors. It opens with Bilott — partner at a corporate law firm — lured to his hometown by claims about poisoned livestock. Sinister revelations follow. He discovers a man-made chemical that is toxic to its own inventors. The film traces Bilott’s efforts to expose DuPont, and in doing so, tells a grander story about the scale of corporate negligence in America.Mark Ruffalo and Bill Camp in Todd Haynes' Dark WatersThis film is an exposition, and it lays out the facts: the crime, the courts, the labour that connected every dot. As Bilott, Ruffalo is rumpled, rattled and diligent — it’s a convincing performance as an unlikely leading man. There are also strong turns from Tim Robbins as Bilott’s boss and Bill Camp as DuPont’s first whistleblower (pictured above left, with Mark Ruffalo as Bilott). Yet the film’s most remarkable quality is Edward Lachman’s lush cinematography. Toxicity is in the air. The film feels oil-slicked, stickily green, with a score that sounds like pure foreboding. With Haynes, Lachman layers the David and Goliath plot with elements of a psychological thriller.

Ultimately, it’s easy to empathise with this film’s core message. But it’s also easy to disengage when it veers away. Unless discussing the case, Dark Waters’ Bilott is flat and emotionless. His family’s dull defining characteristic is that they are neglected by him and the only storyline we get about Bilott’s wife (Anne Hathaway) relates to her frustration at being edged out of the legal profession when she became a mother. The irony of her character is that, edged out of the action, it’s all she gets to be here too.

Dark Waters is the opposite of a love letter: a chilling takedown. It’s critical but clinical, and it tells an important story. It just doesn’t always feel like great storytelling.

@jill_masters

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