DARK WATERS Shines a Spotlight on Corporate Corruption [Blu Review]

A truly chilling tale of criminality and concealment

There’s a quietly understated pedigree to Dark Waters, starring Academy award nominee Mark Ruffalo and Academy award winner Anne Hathaway, helmed by critically acclaimed director Todd Haynes (Carol, Velvet Goldmine), and coming from Participant, the production company behind Spotlight. It’s that last one that speaks to the focus and investigative intent of the piece. Rather then a Catholic coverup, this venture leans more into Erin Brockovich territory, telling of a real-life expose headed by a corporate lawyer that uncovered the egregious acts by DuPont that lead to the poisoning of a small American town and beyond.


Corporate environmental defense attorney Rob Bilott (Academy Award ®- nominee Mark Ruffalo) has just made partner at his prestigious Cincinnati law firm in large part due to his work defending Big Chem companies. He finds himself conflicted after he is contacted by two West Virginia farmers who believe that the local DuPont plant is dumping toxic waste into the area landfill and that it is destroying their fields and killing their cattle. Hoping to learn the truth about just what is happening, Bilott, with the help of his supervising partner in the firm, Tom Terp (Academy Award-winner Tim Robbins), files a complaint that marks the beginning of an epic 15 year-fight — one that will not only test his relationship with his wife, Sarah (Academy Award-winner Anne Hathaway) but also his reputation, his health and his livelihood.

Our everyday lives are besieged by talk of the swamp, by corruption, by inequality, the rich doing as they please, and corporations lining their pockets at the expense (financial and personal) of their workers. And yet, Dark Waters packs a hell of a punch. What was undertaken by DuPont is truly chilling, going beyond simple negligence, into an ongoing coverup, with payoffs and subterfuge to hide the reality that one of their products is detrimental to life. Dark Waters tells of one man, and a small community, having to fight back for their very survival against an iconic American institution that thought itself above the law and basic moral decency

The film toys with some thriller vibes, but mostly leans into the procedural elements, as it slowly unfolds, scraping away the layers of deceit and legal maneuvering, accumulating evidence and insight, while the inhabitants of Parkerstown succumb to their poisoning. A slow creeping horror envelops the film, building to a chilling fury. The direction from Haynes is appropriately played a little cooler than his previous ventures. A muted work that is no less engaging and potent for it. The script from Mario Correa and Matthew Michael Carnahan shines when it’s down in the legalese and horror of what DuPont wrought, however wobbles a bit when it comes to the more drama tinged portions. Ruffalo gives a workman-like performance as corporate lawyer Rob Bilott, which fits perfectly with the humble underdog tale of this man. He weaves in nuance and conflict as he comes to terms with his own complicity as a corporate lawyer, and dawning realization as to how egregious these acts were. The response of many of his fellow professionals, notably embodied by his boss (Tim Robbins), further adds condemnation to their misdeeds. As a fan of Anne Hathaway, it’s a shame to see her underused and perhaps even miscast in a supporting wife role that does little to tax her or require her talents which feel constrained in the few moments she has in the film. The ever welcome Bill Camp adds grit as the farmer who precipitates Bilott’s involvement in the whole case.

The Package

There is a darkness to not just the story of Dark Waters, but the aesthetic too. Despite this, the image quality impresses, showing off good detail, texture, and depth. The palette is a cool one, tending blue, but overall colors are very natural. The release comes in a combo pack of the Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital download code. For a “based on a true story” feature, the extras are a little lacking, but are:

  • Uncovering Dark Waters: Just over 5 minutes, various cast and crew members share their thoughts on the story they’re adapting.
  • The Cost of Being A Hero: An all too short featurette centered around the crusade of Rob Bilott.
  • The Real People: The shortest extra here is also the best. Interviews with the real life victims from Parkersburg, who share stories, as well as what involvement they had with the film.

The Bottom Line

Dark Waters is perhaps one of the more understated and certainly underappreciated films of 2019. A real life story that shatters the blind trust we put in everyday products and further exposes corporate corruption. Todd Haynes and Mark Ruffalo quietly build a legal procedural imbued with a palpable fury, leaving you with a genuine chill that lingers long in the bones.

Dark Waters is available on Blu-ray from March 3rd, 2020.

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