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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

Dark Waters (M) - 127 minutes

White hot rage. That is what built in me the longer Dark Waters went on.

It is, indeed, a shocking story of corporate greed at the expense of humanity – multinational corporations with deep pockets screwing the little guys, time and again … in pursuit of the almighty dollar.

It is a slow burn. Nothing happens quickly. In fact, quite the opposite. Obstacle after obstacle is put in the way of full disclosure and redress.

Dark Waters has much in common with Erin Brockovich (2000).

It is very much an against the odds story, where the public is fed bull and kept in the dark.

The movie is based on a New York Times magazine articletitled “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare” by Nathaniel Rich.

It chronicles a one-man crusade seeking justice for a community exposed for decades to toxins in its own backyard.

Corporate environmental defence attorney Rob Bilott (Mark Ruffalo) has just made partner at his prestigious Cincinnati firm, in large part due to his work defending some of the biggest names in the chemical industry.

When Wilbur Tennant and his brother Jim, two small-town West Virginia farmers, ask for his help investigating the local chemical plant for purportedly killing their livestock, he balks, explaining that he represents chemical companies, not plaintiffs.

Yet, something about their story stays with Rob, especially when he recognises that one of his fondest summers as a boy was spent at a neighbouring farm.

During a drive to the area, Rob’s observations don’t quite align with his memories.

The Tennants believe that whatever DuPont is dumping into their landfill is polluting their creek and has wiped out their herd of nearly 200 cattle.

Supported by his supervising partner at the firm, Tom Terp (Tim Robbins), Bilott files a complaint, undertaking a targeted lawsuit that will uncover just what is happening in Parkersburg.

Years later, Bilott finds that his obsession to ferret out the truth has not only jeopardised his family, particularly his relationship with his wife, Sarah (Anne Hathaway), but also his reputation, his health and his livelihood.

Ruffalo is perfectly cast as Bilott, a dogged, dour, corporate type who is brought to see the light but it is only then that the hard work really begins. He is stoic but insular.

Hathaway, too, is excellent as his supportive wife, Sarah, who watches what the endless, obsessive pursuit of the truth does to her husband, to Rob and her as a couple and to the family dynamic.

Her role really comes into its own in the run home, when Sarah has to stand up for what she believes in.

It is great to see Robbins – fine actor that he is – back on screen, portraying the Managing Partner of the law firm where Rob has been made partner after eight years, but which represents the chemical company the firm is intending to sue.

Clearly he, portraying Tom Terp, is caught between a rock and a hard place.

Around them the secondary players provide ample opportunity for us, the audience, to appreciate the David vs Goliath struggle that is going on here.

The juxtaposition between a struggling rural community and big city suits couldn’t be starker.

I left the cinema most appreciative for having seen such injustice portrayed on screen, but also scared witless about what companies are prepared to try to get away with at such a contemptibly high price.

Rated M, Dark Waters – written by Mario Correa and Matthew Michael Carnahan (21 Bridges) and skilfully directed by Todd Haynes (Carol) – scores an 8 out of 10.


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