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Mark Ruffalo Brings A Passionate Determination To “Dark Waters”

On the surface, it’s fair to wonder why an auteur like Todd Haynes took on this project. After all, legal dramas are compelling cinema, for sure, but hardly places for visual experimentation. One would think that something of this nature would be a waste of his talents. Well, Dark Waters makes for an interesting challenge of that. While Haynes’ filmmaking is an odd fit, this is easily his most accessible work, pairing him with Mark Ruffalo for a committed look at how hard it can be to do the right thing in the face of corporate giants. Hitting theaters today, it’s a late breaking Academy Award hopeful.

The movie is a dramatic retelling of a real life crusade for justice. Inspired by that true story, it follows Robert Bilott (Ruffalo), a successful corporate defense attorney who finds himself driven to take the other side for once. A recent partner, Bilott is inspired by Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp), a neighbor of his grandmother in his small hometown, to look into what the DuPont chemical company is up to. Initially dismissive of Tennant, Bilott soon decides to bring an environmental lawsuit against DuPont. His boss (Tim Robbins) is skeptical but supportive, while his wife Sarah Bilott (Anne Hathaway) worries what this will mean for the family. What’s small at the start begins to grow, exposing a lengthy history of pollution from the company, leading DuPont to fight back. Thus begins a long legal battle to make them answer for their actions. Haynes directs a screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan and Mario Correa. Supporting players include Victor Garber, William Jackson Harper, Louisa Krause, Bill Pullman, Mare Winningham, and more. The score is by Marcelo Zarvos, while the cinematography comes from the legendary Edward Lachman.

Mark Ruffalo turns in a committed and passionate performance here. A passion project of sorts for the actor (who also played someone up against DuPont in Foxcatcher, albeit in a very different way), Ruffalo is deeply invested here. One of his better turns to date, there’s no artifice here. It’s just a deep in the weeds performance, playing a David who goes from defending Goliath to attempting to slay him. It’s impressive work. Bill Camp and Tim Robbins are solid in supporting roles, though nothing to write home about. Unfortunately, Anne Hathaway is wholly wasted. An opportunity to circumvent the traditional worried wife role is squandered. Luckily, Ruffalo is as good as hoped, at least.

Dark Waters is effective, though somewhat workmanlike at the same time. Todd Haynes and Edward Lachman don’t leave much of their imprint on the film, though that’s arguable by intent. Could almost any director have crafted this kind of a flick? Probably. Could all of them do it as rock solidly as Haynes did? Probably not. His presence makes for more of a missed opportunity to do something special than anything else. This is still a solid production, albeit one that runs a little long at just over two hours. It’s a bit too simple to appeal to the Academy, but it’s still a worthy entry into the awards season.

Today, audiences can give a shot to Dark Waters, a well made legal drama/thriller that hits most of the right notes. The movie likely won’t be winning any Oscars, but liberal leaning audiences wanting to see the little guy go up against corporate America could see fit to make this a small scale hit. At the same time, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the film swallowed up by a crowded marketplace and more or less ignored. Time will tell there, but this is a solid flick that’s worth seeing. It’s not sexy, but those in search of quality adult fare can do a whole lot worse, that’s for sure.

Be sure to check out Dark Waters, beginning its theatrical run this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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