MOVIE REVIEW: Truth of Ruffalo’s sobering passion project
Three and a half stars
Director: Todd Haynes
Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins
Running time: 126 minutes
Verdict: Chilling true story
Cincinnati lawyer Robert Billot (Mark Ruffalo) doesn't really get his day in court in this disturbing real-life drama about a giant chemical company's attempts to cover up its decades-long contamination of a town's water supply.
Dark Waters is not that kind of film.
In a world traditionally dominated by firebrands (Julia Roberts' Erin Brokovich) and grandstanders (Fahrenheit 11/9's Michael Moore), doggedness is this nondescript hero's superpower.
After 20 years of unrelenting graft, Billot does, finally, achieve a significant victory against DuPont, which knowingly subjected its employees and their surrounding environment to Teflon's toxic by-products.
But rather than reassure its audience with a classic, David-and-Goliath story in which the little guy triumphs against overwhelming odds, Dark Waters methodically builds a case of widespread systemic corruption in which the plaintiffs are betrayed even by the institutions that were designed to protect them.
One leaves the cinema with the sobering thought that if that's what it takes to bring a corporate giant to justice, it's no wonder so few are held to account.
Even harder to compute is how so many people could condone such callous behaviour, which included lacing employees' cigarettes with chemicals to test toxicity levels, and reintroducing women to the production line after confirming the Teflon by-products caused birth defects.
Based on a 2016 New York Times article, "The Lawyer Who Became DuPont's Worst Nightmare", Todd Haynes' film is almost conscientiously stark.
Its grey colour palette stands in marked contrast to previous, colour-saturated films by the director such as Carol and Far From Heaven.
Ruffalo plays Billot as a hunch-shouldered worker bee in an ill-fitting suit and an unflattering bouffant hairdo.
After a visit from one of his grandma's West Virginia neighbours - a farmer who is gruff to the point of surliness - the hardworking corporate lawyer feels compelled to investigate the allegations further.
Sifting his way through a mountain of documents, Billot discovers crimes of such magnitude, he switches sides.
Dark Waters was a passion project for Ruffalo. His energy and focus drive the narrative.
Cameos from Bilott, his wife Sarah (played in the film by Anne Hathaway), and other real-life players in the case lend a further note authenticity to the film.