DARK WATERS Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

Home Top Ad

Post Top Ad


No, seriously, don’t drink the water, says Tony.

Sometimes, reviewing movies is strange. Just this week, we reviewed a new take on an HP Lovecraft short story Colour Out Of Space, about the horrifying consequences of poison seeping into the water table of a small rural community and killing every living thing with which it came into contact.

Then along comes Dark Waters, a biopic about that time multinational chemical companies poisoned the water tables of small rural communities, giving horrendous cancers and other serious health problems to most living things with which it came into contact.

Do you not remember that? Fascinating – it went on for over four decades, and took twenty years of legal fighting to get people any kind of justice. In fact, the fight’s ongoing even as we sit here typing this.

So…yeah. That’s a thing.

Mark Ruffalo stars in what is a poorly misnamed but extremely strong and compelling biopic based on the life of Robert Billott, a chemical industry lawyer who got involved in the case of a farmer in Parkersburg, West Virginia, whose cows were suffering birth defects, rotten teeth, unexplainable tumours and the like, and who were becoming distressed and violent as a result, turning his farmland into a graveyard.

Threads of logic led from that one case to others, and from cows to other animals and on to human cancers, birth defects and other significant health problems, and from there to a legal battle with one of the world’s chemical giants, Dupont, despite evidence of Dupont’s complicity and duplicity being held in its own files. Billott spent decades of his life uncovering the link between Teflon, one of the world’s most unique and identifiable brand names, and all these horrifying consequences.

This is the story of that battle.

It’s full of grim detail, but if you think you can look away at any point, you’re wrong. This is a movie that makes you forget you own a phone – you actively don’t want to interrupt what you’re watching at any point of its two-hour run-time.

There’s a long and established history of actors winning plaudits and credibility by portraying the good guys in a struggle against corporate awfulness – Silkwood with Meryl Streep, Erin Brockavich with Julia Roberts, The Insider with Russell Crowe, and also this year, Bombshell with Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron and Margot Robbie. You might…just…imagine that huge corporations would perhaps stop being quite so horror-movie-villain awful in the wake of so many movies based on just how awful they’ve been in the past, and you might even, bless your optimistic heart, hope that people everywhere might get a clue that big corporations are not their friends – not then, not now, not ever. But no.

Meanwhile, the cast of Dark Waters – which really should be called They’re Poisoning You And They Don’t Care – is impeccable: Ruffalo takes the lead and does the Russell Crowe thing, immersing himself in a look that makes him believably human and increasingly exhausted as the movie goes on, rather than looking like Mark Ruffalo, so we invest in the drama rather than in star-spotting. Anne Hathaway stars as his wife, but likewise, her performance is immersive, so there’s not much of a moment of ‘Oh, that’s Anne Hathaway,’ you simply believe her. Tim Robbins is the head of Billott’s law firm. Bill Pullman’s a local, somewhat quirky lawyer drafted in at one point to try and put Dupont on trial. None of them break the mood or the tone of normal lives in corporate America, disrupted by discovery. The look of the film adds to that almost documentary feel, seemingly washed in a kind of fade and lacking any particular Hollywood sparkle, despite the heavyweight names in the cast.

More than that though, this is a film that hardly ever flinches from depicting the downsides of going up against ‘The Man.’ The marriage between Robert and his wife Sarah, while not at any point breaking down, is both visibly and invisibly strained as the yeeeears of legal fighting go on – invisibly in terms of the body language of a couple who remember they love one another, but are somewhat subsumed by what Sarah at one point calls Robert’s ‘obsession.’ There are crushing implications in his work too – when a former chemical industry lawyer goes up against a name like Dupont, no-one else will touch him, meaning he has no other clients, and has to take pay cut after pay cut just to press on with the fight. There’s horror and hatred from local communities – even the communities who’ve been actively poisoned and killed by Dupont – for threatening their livelihoods and therefore their dignity within the shackles of the American Dream, where poverty is failure and wealth is success. And there’s naturally an implication on Rob’s own health – not, thankfully, as a result of Teflon poisoning, but from the sheer mental stress of knowing that one of the world’s biggest companies needs to stop him from doing what he’s doing. He develops a shake which eventually debilitates him at the office, but more than that, as houses of some of the plaintiffs in the case against Dupont are set on fire, there’s a heart-stopping scene where Billott gets in his car, and for several agonising moments, can’t turn the key to start the engine, paralysed by the fear that if he does so, the car will blow up. We’re absolutely with him in that moment, as Ruffalo portrays him not breaking down, but clenching hard against the imagined imminent blast. It’s a poignant moment that ultimately shows the stress his system is under.

Nor does the film shy away from the difficult and grumpy nature of some of the good people involved in the case. The original cattle farmer who got Billott involved, Wilbur Tennant, is played by Bill Camp as a cantankerous, no-prisoners-taken old curmudgeon, who won’t cut anyone any slack. That the film also follows his progress over the fifteen or so years in which he’s involved in the fight against Dupont’s duplicity helps establish him as being on the right side of this question, but never goes the extra mile to make him especially likeable at the expense of veracity.

You won’t look away during the whole of this movie – the cast, the direction from Todd Haynes, and the story underneath it all is so utterly compelling. It’s a movie that proves the myth of corporate compassion, and that once again, like all the others, blows us away both with the story of the David seeking justice against a corrupted Goliath, and the sense of exactly how blatantly evil corporations can become when profit is threatened, while justifying their actions, wrecking lives, taking lives, smearing the speakers of the truth they know and generally stalking the earth like giant many-headed demons. The message that They Don’t Care About You couldn’t be written any larger or more boldy throughout this movie, and yet there’s not really a whiff of preaching in it. It manages to establish the absolute foulness of the corporate culture of Big Chemistry, while reminding us firmly that the systems of checks and balances in which we’re invited and encouraged to place our faith, our trust in the nature of justice have no immediacy, no guaranteed cause and effect relationship to the truth. It reminds us, ultimately, that we, the people, are all the same, and that we, the people need to look after each other, because left unchecked, They – the great and powerful They, used here to mean not just Dupont but all the corporations who offer shiny new products, or benefits, or apps or ways to communicate – will run entirely roughshod over us, will poison us, and steal our data, and use us as guinea pigs, and skew our elections, and decide the amount of poison it’s safe to put in our food, and decide whether it’s economically viable to save our lives. While I’ve been more preachy in this single paragraph than Dark Waters gets across two hours, it’s a film that shows all this, so it doesn’t need to tell it. It’s never histrionic, never screams its message. It simply shows what happened when people stood up against a self-regulation culture that allowed the poisoning of human beings and the shortening of their lives in the quest to make ever more billions of dollars. Alongside Bombshell, Dark Waters is a biopic that will immerse you utterly, rock your world, and make you determined to be better and kinder to your family, your friends and your neighbours, because ultimately, it’s people that will help you, rather than companies. If it’s not one of the movies you go out of your way to see in 2020, you’ll miss out on something special.

Tony lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post Top Ad