Review: Dark Waters

Score: B+

Director: Todd Haynes

Cast: Mark Ruffalo, Bill Camp, Tim Robbins, Anne Hathaway

Running Time: 126 Minutes

Rated: PG-13

The legal thriller used to be a big deal Hollywood, whether it was an absurd but entertaining John Grisham adaptation or a real-life story like A Civil Action. But along with almost every type of movie that doesn’t involve superheroes or animated animals, it’s all but disappeared from multiplexes.

And so even if it doesn’t seem like it, Todd Haynes is actually a great choice to attempt to resurrect the genre. He’s succeeded at all kinds of moribund genres. He’s made spectacular ’50s melodramas, silent films and unconventional musician biopics. So even if this is him at his most understated, it’s in keeping with both his idiosyncratic takes and the environmental anxiety he explored in Safe.

Mark Ruffalo stars as Robert Billot, who’s just made partner at a firm that specializes in corporate defense. When a friend of his grandmother’s – played terrifically as usual by Bill Camp – asks him to look into the death of his cattle and the possible implication of the chemical giant DuPont. It’s a case local attorneys are too scared to take on, and Billot figures he’ll do some basic discovery and maybe reach a quick settlement. But once he realizes DuPont is hiding a lot of information about the community they’re so intertwined with, the case drags on for years as he gets mountains of documentation that reveals the extent of the deception and evil. (Yes, he gets to say, “They knew!”)

Anne Hathaway gets everything she can out of an absolutely thankless role as Robert’s wife Sarah, a former attorney herself. Tim Robbins gives his best performance in a very long time as Robert’s mentor and senior partner, and there are terrific cameos from Victor Garber, Bill Pullman and Mare Winningham. But other than Ruffalo, the real star of the film is Ed Lachman, whose intentionally grainy cinematography gives a real texture to rural farms, bland offices, and ritzy ballrooms.

In breaking with feel-good flicks like Erin Brockovich, this is a lot more realistic about how slow the gears of justice are, and how captive local and federal governments are to giant multibillion-dollar corporations. If you’re looking for a big, triumphant ending, this is not your film.

Ultimately, Dark Waters is grim but engaging and shouldn’t get washed away in the flood of new releases this holiday season.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.