Orange Thursday: Dark Waters (2019)

Every Thursday, TMINE reviews two movies, carefully avoiding infringing a former mobile phone company’s trademarked marketing gimmick

Only the one movie this Orange Thursday, as I actually had a life last night, which precluded watching a movie on an iPad. Oh well.

Still, it’s a good ‘un that’s only just out in cinemas: Dark Waters (2019), a true story in which corporate lawyer Mark Ruffalo helps to discover one of the biggest environmental cover-ups in history.

See you after the ads and the trailer.

Dark Waters (2019)

Plot

A tenacious attorney uncovers a dark secret that connects a growing number of unexplained deaths to one of the world’s largest corporations. While trying to expose the truth, he soon finds himself risking his future, his family and his own life.

Dark Waters

TMINE verdict

Dark Waters seems at first like it’s basically Erin Brockovich again. A true story, it sees Mark Ruffalo trying to work out what’s happened to a West Virginian farmer’s livestock and discovers they’re been poisoned by chemicals from a nearby DuPont plant.

Unlike Brockovich, however, Ruffalo’s Rob Bilott is a corporate attorney for chemical companies – it’s only because the farmer is a friend of his grandmother’s that he even bothers to give him a hearing.

However, rather than being a perky, angry, people-based affair like Brockovich, Dark Waters fits far more easily into the dogged journalism arena that Ruffalo previously entered in Spotlight.

The story starts in the late 90s and covers more or less up to the present day (the real-life Bilott’s legal work is still continuing), with Ruffalo doggedly working his through the system, taking years to extract information from DuPont and other government agencies, trying to work out what the problem is.

Pleasingly, the movie doesn’t here go through the usual dramatic clichés of Ruffalo working against his boss (Tim Robbins) or facing threats from hired thugs. Instead, Robbins is supportive and wants lawyers to be sticking up for the little guy. And of the thugs, there are none.

© Mary Cybulski / Focus Features

The doubting wife

However, Bilott’s personal life is a little bit more by the books, with wife Anne Hathaway being spectacularly typically unsupportive, usually prefaced with “I know I’m supposed to be supportive…”, to inject the story with more drama. A former attorney, she nevertheless has little to do except be the cause of a doubt for a man driven to do good.

I doesn’t help either that she’s 15 years’ Ruffalo’s junior and no amount of hair dye can make Ruffalo look like ‘young Rob’ in the earlier stages of the movies.

That said, there is a notable scene that changes that, with (spoiler alert) Ruffalo sitting her down and explaining to her (and the audience) exactly what DuPont has done and says that if after hearing his story, she thinks she should stop, he will. Her reaction gives her character some depth but she remains on a somewhat similar course for the rest of the movie.

Accuracy

Where the movie really works, though, is in its central concern and its depiction of science. DuPont really did do all the things depicted – covered up what it knew about a dangerous chemical, carried on dumping it in the environment for decades and then did all it could to stop its cash cow from being taken away.

And although there are a couple of areas where some of the scientific explanations didn’t quite work, it’s largely a painstaking examination of the research done before Bilott arrived, as well as the largest epidemiological study in human history.

By the end of the movie, even if essentially not a lot has actually happened, you’ll be feeling excited, uplifted, educated and maybe quite angry. Because at the end of the day, that chemical DuPont made? It’s in you now and it’s not going away. Ever. And now you know about it.

TMINE rating

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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