Dark Waters (2019)
Mark Ruffalo is good at this stuff. Central to Spotlight, he’s on form here in a similar tale of exposure. He’s joined by a pretty decent cast in this dramatic telling of a true story, but this is his film. Rob Billot (Ruffalo) is a lawyer, corporate, stuffy, a successful new partner in a big firm. Predictably though, he’s still humble, still connected to his roots and when his roots come asking for help, Rob heads to West Virginia. Home has become a bleak farming community, struggling and in the shadow of a large chemical company. Du Pont it is claimed by locals are dumping waste into the streams and killing cattle. Rob wants to help and his boss (Tim Robbins) reluctantly agrees, despite potential conflict with the firms interests. As things escalate, the firm backs Rob and he goes to war with Du Pont. It’s not exactly ground breaking cinema, a mix between the aforementioned Spotlight and Erin Brockovich, but it’s pacing is typically fast, meaning it’s very easy to watch. There’s a monologue right at the heart of this, that although dripping in exposition is brilliantly delivered and does help give some structure to what is up to then, standard sorting through papers in dusty basement office law stuff. Close ups on old PC screens, tired eyes rubbed in low light shots, photocopiers, bull dog clips. It’s a stationary film. This is the intentional look and feel, the whole film near colourless, the screen graded a depressing steely blue, it feels dirty. It’s hard hitting important drama. Of course, it goes way beyond cattle. More digging, more paper, more meetings, more legal action, more denial, more deaths. Where Ruffalo excels and Robbins rides his coat tails, the introduction of Bill Pullman as co-council is ill advised. He seems intent on reprising his blusterous Presidential role in Independence Day and it doesn’t half grate, thankfully it’s merely a passing cameo. Also out of sorts is Anne Hathaway as Rob’s wife. She’s pretty underused to be fair, but really doesn’t bring the grit that the film really warrants. Aside from the dramatic entertainment factor here, the scope of the story behind it is rather staggering. Not merely a localised water poisoning. Rob unearths Du Pont’s cover ups, knowing exactly the extent of what their manufacturing of Teflon is doing... killing people. From this point on, the film gets a bit heavy as Rob fears for his safety. As the years roll by, decades, Robs family grows up and he’s missing it, obsessed with the crusade. A crusade that also begins to effect his health. It’s complex. On one hand you’ve got the big bad corporation. On the other the righteous lawyer. In the middle you’ve the people, some of whom are up for a fight having got sick, having lost family, but many that are reluctant to rock the boat, Du Pont being the biggest employer in town. The span of this is huge. A damning indictment of America’s fucked up excuse of a law system and it’s certainly not a feel good film. Despite some positive outcomes, I still came out of this feeling tarnished, repulsed, angry. Ruffalo is great, but I’m afraid, once again, America, it is proven... isn’t.