By Leslie C. Halpern
Opening Thanksgiving week locally, the biopic Dark Waters provides something to be thankful for: That corporate environmental attorney Rob Bilott (Mark Ruffalo) risked his job, his marriage, and his health to defend two West Virginia farmers who claimed the local DuPont plant was poisoning their water. The 15-year battle found Bilott attacking the very company he formerly defended.
Although his extensive study of the legalities and chemistry of the case (largely surrounding Teflon), help Bilott get to the truth, it’s his humanity that keeps him going despite numerous setbacks and threats. Even with only a 12th grade education, the most vocal farmer (Bill Camp) who enlists Bilott’s aid, knows the U.S. Government, the EPA, the state, the county, and most assuredly the corporations don’t care about the common man—even when thousands of these common men and women are being poisoned by toxic waste dumped into their drinking water.
Ruffalo fully expresses the range of emotions his character goes through during these 15 years, from his initial disinterest and disbelief to his growing concern and nagging conscience to his steadfast determination despite exhaustion, stress, and nearly insurmountable odds. Even with its ripped-from-the-headlines movie-of-the-week topic, the film has enough artful touches (dramatic scenes in West Virginia showing cause and effect, plus some surprising cameos) and real drama (without overt emotional manipulation) to make this film important and educational.
In this true story, a recently promoted partner at a law firm risks it all to fight against DuPont when he learns his hometown has been a long-time dumping ground for toxic chemicals.
- Stars: Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Anne Hathaway, Bill Camp, Victor Garber, Mare Winningham, William Jackson Harper, Bill Pullman
- Directors: Todd Haynes
- Genre: Biography / Drama
- Run Time: 127 minutes
- MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for thematic content, disturbing images, and language)
Leslie C. Halpern is the author of Scantily Clad Truths: Essays on Life with Clothes (and without) and 200 Love Lessons from the Movies.