DARK WATERS – Review by Susan Granger
While the topic of whistleblowing is timely, this legal drama, inspired by true events, gets bogged down in dull procedural trivia.
Back in 1998, Cincinnati corporate environmental defense attorney Robert Bilott (Mark Ruffalo) was approached by a desperate West Virginia farmer, Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp), who told him that toxic waste from DuPont was either causing disastrous birth defects and/or killing his cows.
Ironically, Bilot had just been promoted to partner in a conservative law firm that represented chemical companies, and he was not only familiar with Parkersburg, where DuPont was the biggest employer, but also his grandmother lived nearby.
Fortunately for Bilot, his supervising partner at the law firm, Tom Terp (Tim Robbins), was sympathetic, allowing Bilot to spend, literally, years investigating. What Bilot discovered involved a nearly 50 year-old synthetic polymer called PFOA, used in making Teflon products, which DuPont had been dumping onto the local landfill.
Meanwhile, as his career is in jeopardy and family funds dwindle as a result of four pay cuts, Bilot’s wife, Sarah (Anne Hathaway), a former lawyer who gave up her career to raise their family, is running out of patience.
Eventually, DuPont was forced to pay the largest fine in EPA’s history: $16.5 million and an additional $671 million to the 3,535 innocent West Virginians who filed personal injury lawsuits.
Based on Nathaniel Rich’s 2016 New York Times Magazine article, “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare,” it’s painstakingly adapted by Mario Correa and Matt Carnahan and methodically directed by Todd Haynes (“Safe,” “Far From Heaven,” “Carol”).
FYI: DuPont and other American companies have phased out using PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid), as the EPA is working on legal standards for its use. But PFOA and other compounds are called “forever chemicals” because it could take hundreds or thousands of years for them to break down.
FYI: Far better whistleblower films include “Silkwood” (1983), “The Insider” (2000) and “Erin Brockovich” (2000).
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Dark Waters” is an all-too- conventional 5, revolving around a sincere social activist.