‘Dark Waters’: The System Is Rigged In Todd Haynes’ Earnest Eco-Political Thriller [Review]

The Playlist | 11/13/2019 | Luke Hicks
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“The system is rigged,” corporate defense attorney turned protector of the people, Rob Bilott (Mark Ruffalo) vents angrily to his wife Sarah (Anne Hathaway) in a Benihana’s parking lot, fourteen painstaking years of legal warfare against one of the largest chemical conglomerates on the planet propelling his rage. Bilott is the real-world hero of Todd Haynes’ new environmental justice film “Dark Waters,” a Matthew Michael Carnahan and Mario Correa adaptation of the 2016 New York Times article by Nathaniel Rich, “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare.” It begins as a slow-burn procedural and morphs exponentially into an eco-political thriller, that’s earnest, sometimes a little hokey, but always engaging.

Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp), a Parkersburg, West Virginia farmer with a high school education, finds Bilott at his Cincinnati, Ohio firm, Taft Stettinius & Hollister, and begs him to take his case because no one else will. Bilott, slightly sympathetic due to his West Virginia roots, begrudgingly agrees to help as little as possible, informing Tennant that he’s employed to do the opposite of what he’s asking him to do. But after he visits Tennant’s farm and witnesses the damning evidence—a deadened pasture, a graveyard of livestock, along with Tennant’s collection of their blackened teeth and inflamed organs— Bilott feels compelled to take the case.

Order - Law - Firm - Grudge - Match

At first, he’s treading lightly, trying not to upset the order of his law firm, but it isn’t long before he’s in a bitter grudge match with DuPont—a chemical company whose lawyers and executives he used to work alongside quite often—over their unethical use and waste disposal of an unregulated chemical called PFOA (most popularly associated with Teflon), or C8, which Bilott and Tennant believe is poisoning the drinking water of over 100,000 people in and around the Parkersburg area. Given the scale of the lawsuit and the...
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