Dark Waters: Film Review

I’m really surprised Dark Waters didn’t get any love this awards season. Its subject matter is something that the Oscars usually love, so it’s a shame this film has flown under the radar because it tells a staggering story.

The film follows Robert Bilott (Mark Ruffalo), a real-life corporate defence attorney working in environmental law in Cincinnati, Ohio. One day he is approached by a family friend, a farmer named Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp), who claims the run-off from a nearby DuPont landfill site is poisoning the water on his farm in Bilott’s hometown of Parkersburg, West Virginia. Although he would usually work for DuPont rather than the little guy, Bilott takes the case, thinking it will be a straightforward damages job. That’s until he finds out DuPont’s chemical run-off has affected much more than the farm.

If you follow my reviews you’ll know that I love films that shed light on incredible people, and Bilott is one of those people. He ends up working on this case for many years, even though it puts a strain on his career, his income, his health and his marriage to Sarah (Anne Hathaway). He sacrifices so much to stand up for the underdog and it would have made his life so much easier if he’d given up and accept minor damages for his clients. But he refuses to stop and take the easy way out even though many before him have crumbled going up against such a big corporation.

Ruffalo gives a terrific yet understated performance as Bilott, whose mental state is gradually weakened by the all-consuming case and he becomes someone that can think of nothing else. I’m surprised Hathaway wanted the role of the suffering wife, whose husband is never there or mentally present when he is, but Sarah gets a couple of standout speeches that made her casting make sense. It’s an emotional role and she does very well. I also want to praise Camp, who is excellent as this gruff farmer with an accent you can just about understand, and Tim Robbins as Bilott’s boss.

Dark Waters, directed by Todd Haynes, has gone unnoticed this awards season. Perhaps not enough people saw it as it looks like boring legal procedural piece on the surface, and while it is told in a conventional way and starts to feel long towards the end, the real-life story is so compelling, important and shocking that it doesn’t need extra bells and whistles. It speaks for itself. I personally love a David and Goliath type story – of one man going up against a powerful corporate giant. Honestly, if you don’t know the outcome of this story, go see Dark Waters, because it is fascinating.

In cinemas Friday 28th February

Rating: 4/5

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