Dark Waters : Daring DuPont!
Film Review

Dark Waters : Daring DuPont!

Rahul Gupta

Rahul Gupta

In one of the scenes in “Dark Waters”, corporate defense lawyer Robert Bilot (Mark Ruffalo) is hopelessly digging up his own kitchen when his wife Sarah (Anne Hathaway) is fuming at him. He explains that he thinks that DuPont and its products are poisoning him and his family through the “Teflon” coated frying pans and what not. It looks like a moment of lunacy bordering on genius. The scene portrays how tough and difficult it is for lawyers (on a personal and professional level) to take on iconic American companies when they are being pursued for wronging the average population. This moment also builds the central narrative of “Dark Water” which speaks in exhaustive detail of the lawsuit filed by Bilot against DuPont for using “forever chemicals” in its products which have poisoned the bulk of humanity and has been responsible for millions of casualties all over the world.

“DARK WATERS” is a movie directed by Todd Haynes. Haynes is considered a disruptor of sorts in Hollywood with edgy films such as Carol, Velvet Underground and Mildred Pierce. The film stars global actors such as Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins and Victor Garber. The film is based on the book “ The Man Who Became DuPont’s worst nightmare” by Nathaniel Rich.

The Film

“Dark Waters” is a movie based on true incidents. Cincinnati Attorney Robert Bilot works at Taft Law and is known to be one of the finest lawyers for big chemical companies. On one day, he is visited by farmer Wilbur Tennant who comes unannounced and makes an appeal to Bilot to come and visit his farm in West Virgina where a lot of his cows and other animals are dying because of contamination of water and soil. Many humans have died of cancer and other diseases as well. As he visits and investigates, he uncovers that a large number of toxic chemical waste has been piling up in the farm area next to Tennant’s property which is owned by DuPont. Bilot investigates further and links the waste to a hazardous chemical used by DuPont in its “Teflon” coated products line which include non stick cookware. From here starts a David Vs Goliath style battle between Bilot and the DuPont Corporation. The movie chronicles the various levels of challenges Bilot faces and how his family led by his wife Sarah tackles these extraordinary circumstances.

What is the DuPont issue in “Dark Waters”?

DuPont is a Fortune 50 company which has been manufacturing a range of products across various industries. The group also owns and operates “Teflon” coated products which have a variety of applications from defence vehicles like Tanks to home appliances used by housewives all over the planet. DuPont uses a group of chemicals called “Forever Chemicals” which are essentially hazardous and do not leave the bloodstream and accumulate over a period of time in the human body and can cause cancer and body deformation in little kids. It has an especially adverse effect on animals and livestock. It is estimated that every human in the planet has this chemical in the body but people who are exposed in less quantity continue to live but the ones who are exposed to more end up dying or having some severe effects.

“Dark Waters” as a movie attacks a relevant issue which concerns us all. The film builds an engaging narrative with Bilot fighting for the families affected near Wilbur Tennant’s farm. DuPont was caught with wilful negligence. The details of the case are available online and anyone can research on Bilot’s case.

Hollywood’s romance with the concept of Man Vs Corporation !

Be it “Erin Brockovich”, “The Informant” or “The Insider”, filmmakers in Hollywood love to take on the paradox of “the big evil corporation”. This is largely because most of these films are based on true life stories and characters. But what is most important to note is that it is very tough to fight with large companies in a legal fashion. Expensive lawyers, local state issues and threat to career become the main reasons why people avoid becoming activists. One can never forget the feisty Julia Roberts in “Erin Brockovich” where she battles it out against Pacific Gas for her client who is dying because of excessive exposure to “chromium” in her water supply.

In “Dark Waters” Bilot becomes an unlikely hero for a large population as he pushes for enquiry through his contacts at DuPont. But it took him 20 years to reach a reasonable settlement for his clients which exceeded $ USD 671 Million. In the process, Bilot’s marriage and professional career came under severe strain with him taking unexpected salary cuts. In addition, his company Taft Law also went under severe criticism. The gratifying fact is that Bilot is still with Taft and it has grown with him to new heights.

Mark Ruffalo’s moment

Aside being Bruce Banner/Hulk, Ruffalo has been on the radar for his performances as well. He played a similar role in “Zodiac” where he was a local San Francisco cop who is investigating a serial killer for ‘decades’. Here in “Dark Waters” he plays the “fish out of water” character to perfection. He is part of the cozy circle of lawyers who make a lot of money protecting chemical companies and live a high quality lifestyle. But for a stranger he is risking it all even to the level of having a severe health issue himself. Ruffalo immerses himself in a character which is “studied”, “aggressive” and yet “scared” at the same time. His best scenes are seen with Tennant and Sarah (Anne Hathaway).

Direction of Todd Haynes

Haynes has very skilfully used real locations. Robert Bilot himself stars in the film for a cameo and was a consultant to Haynes for the film. Under Haynes, the story has a real feel to it. The casting of Bill Camp as the ‘small town- no filter’ farmer was the clincher. He suddenly comes into Bilot’s life and disrupts it forever. The movie also sticks to the case rather than just blindly attack DuPont. The narrative builds well before the expose. Location of the farm, the real look to the infected animals play a crucial role here.

Final Verdict

“Dark Waters” is a class act as it banks on realism and great performance of its lead actors. It’s a duel between the relentless Bilot and one of the largest corporations on the planet. Above all, it’s an issue which concerns us all. I would give this film an 8 out of 10.

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