When Todd Haynes’ Dark Waters was released in the U.S. last November, some critics seemed mildly affronted that this once leading light in the New Queer Cinema movement, who has made such groundbreaking films as Poison, Velvet Goldmine and Carol should stoop to make a whistleblower movie. How conventional, people cried. But while Dark Waters is some way from his more arthouse work, it’s carved right from the block of vital American films that have dealt with corporate malfeasance, such as The Parallax View, Silkwood and The Insider. And that’s no bad thing.
Based on a New York Times magazine article, ‘The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare’, this is a meticulous and masterful piece of work. Mark Ruffalo, who also produces alongside Haynes’ regular producer Christine Vachon, plays the aforementioned Cincinnati legal eagle, Rob Bilott. A corporate defence lawyer, he’s used to being on the side of the conglomerates but when a West Virginia farmer approaches him he gets sucked into a case that will eventually consume his life.
The farmer, Wilbur Tenant (Bill Camp), has evidence that his cows are developing deformities and dying. The water supply, he believes, is poisoned, and it doesn’t take too long before Bilott discovers that manufacturing giant DuPont has been dumping chemicals in the nearby creek. But that is just the tip of a very disturbing iceberg, with the bovine population not the only ones suffering from life-threatening diseases. There’s more to come too, with shocking revelations about the specific chemical that’s causing this havoc. It will leave you staggered.
Haynes is methodical in his approach to the story, with the years ticking by as Bilott tirelessly campaigns against the might of DuPont. Anne Hathaway plays his wife, in what might seem like a thankless role, but she performs with grace and intelligence as the woman who watches her family fall apart while her husband become obsessed with his case at the expense of everything else. With Tim Robbins also on hand as Bilott’s boss, it’s a respectable cast driven by Haynes’ sure hand. It may not be as radical as his 1995 film [Safe], which essayed Julianne Moore’s housewife as she fell allergic to the modern world, but the two films most certainly belong in the canon of Todd Haynes.
Dark Waters opens on 28 February. For more details, visit here.