Review: Dark Waters (2019)

Dark Waters (2019)

Directed by: Todd Haynes | 126 minutes | biography, drama | Actors: Anne Hathaway, Bill Camp, Mare Winningham, Mark Ruffalo, William Jackson Harper, Tim Robbins, Bill Pullman, Victor Garber, Louisa Krause, Kevin Crowley, Daniel R. Hill, Ming Wang, Sydney Miles, Marc Hockl

In the 1950s, millions of housewives were blown away when non-stick frying pans hit the market. Never again have to worry about the food sticking during baking, it was a dream come true. It would only become known much later that the substance that makes up that non-stick coating, Teflon, is harmful to the health of humans and animals. Even more shocking is that the producer of Teflon, the American chemical group DuPont, discovered through their own research in the late 1950s that their product gives off toxic fumes when heated, then continued to produce and sell them, generating billions of dollars in profit for decades. . Journalist Nathaniel Rich wrote the article “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare” in 2016, which was published in The New York Times Magazine. He described the battle that lawyer Robert Bilott has been waging against DuPont for twenty years. Actor Mark Ruffalo read the article and was so moved by it that he championed the film adaptation of Bilott’s story. He approached director Todd Haynes, known for films such as ‘Far from Heaven’ (2002), ‘I’m Not There’ (2007) and ‘Carol’ (2015). In turn, he turned out to be a secret fan of films from the so-called ‘whistleblowers’ genre, such as ‘All the President’s Men’ (1976), ‘Silkwood’ (1983), ‘The Insider’ (1999) and ‘Erin Brockovich’. (2000). And not so much to see powerful industrial or government agencies be brought down, but mainly because of that brave man or woman who dares to take on the established order and the struggle (physically, mentally and in relation to his or her environment). ) associated with it. For that reason, Haynes liked to work with Ruffalo (who not only takes on the role of Bilott but also acts as a producer).

When we first meet him, in 1998, Rob Bilott (Mark Ruffalo) is about to become a partner at the prestigious Taft law firm in Cincinnati. But then, during an important meeting, he receives an unannounced visit from Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp), an exasperated dairy farmer from rural Parkersburg, West Virginia. He has a stack of videotapes with him and asks Rob to look at them, to see what happened to his cows, and what the neighboring DuPont chemical plant has to do with it. Since Rob normally represents the interests of large companies such as DuPont, he decides after some deliberation to take a look. Wilbur turns out to be an acquaintance of his grandmother; as a little boy, Rob sometimes walked around his riding school. Once at the dilapidated farm, he sees with his own eyes how the cattle have been poisoned for years by the water from Dry Run Creek, a stream that DuPont uses as a dump for chemical waste. At first he sees a case of “innocent negligence” on the part of the chemical giant, but he decides to represent Wilbur’s interests and sue DuPont, much to the dismay of his boss (Tim Robbins) and the CEO of DuPont (Victor Garber), a major customer of Taft. Rob hopes to limit the damage and reach a mutually acceptable settlement. But when he delves into DuPont’s vast archives and stumbles upon the mysterious chemical compound PFOA-C8, he discovers the dirty game the chemical giant has been playing with the lives of humans and animals for decades. His search for the truth slowly turns into a serious obsession, which takes its toll: not only his relationship with wife Sarah (a servant Anne Hathaway) and three sons, but also his health suffer.

Sober and modest are not words that you immediately associate with the work of Todd Haynes, but with ‘Dark Waters’ he shows that he can apply that style excellently if necessary. And a film like this calls for such a melancholic mood. Because the revelations that Rob Bilott made are not exactly happy. It is not so much a question of whether DuPont is doing something that is not allowed – because it is beyond dispute that the chemical group is guilty of knowingly polluting the environment – ​​but above all it is the scale at which damage is caused to nature, people and animal, the shocking fact that they’ve known for 40 years that they were poisoning their employees and the environment and the arrogance with which they think they can get away with it – and they are! In a corruption-free world, DuPont would have closed down after Bilott’s revelations, the victims and/or their next of kin would have received a hefty sum of money, and chemical manufacturers would have somehow repaired the damage they caused if possible. But see how to get poison out of the environment once it’s in, see seriously ill people and animals and deformed babies get better. DuPont still exists and is happily carrying on with its practices, although today they operate under the name Chemours. They laugh at the amounts they have to pay in damages. And with a president like Trump, they are more powerful than weaker.

‘Dark Waters’ is a film that is sad but also somehow gives hope, at least until the wry final conclusion. Mark Ruffalo plays Rob Bilott understated but combative; a man who has always had a strong sense of justice, but because of this case, he is actually beginning to feel what justice really means. A man as surprised and shocked as we are at what he discovers about DuPont. Even more than Ruffalo and Haynes, cinematographer Ed Lachman leaves his mark on this film with his beautiful moody images. ‘Dark Waters’ is shocking, urgent, confrontational and shows nothing but the bitter reality: money rules the world.

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