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"DARK WATERS"
(2019) (Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A corporate defense attorney puts everything on the line as he begins investigating claims that a corporate chemical giant might be knowingly endangering the public.
PLOT:
It's 1998 and Robert Bilott (MARK RUFFALO) is a corporate defense attorney who lives in Cincinnati with his wife, Sarah (ANNE HATHAWAY), a former lawyer turned stay-at-home mom, and their young child. He's built a solid reputation defending various chemical corporations and has recently been named a partner at the law firm run by Tom Terp (TIM ROBBINS).

The only big client they don't represent is DuPont and thus when Parkersburg, WV farmer Wilbur Tennant (BILL CAMP) approaches him with evidence that the corporate chemical giant has poisoned his farmland, Robert reluctantly agrees to look into the matter, mainly because the man knows his grandmother who lives there.

DuPont in-house attorney Phil Donnelly (VICTOR GARBER) initially agrees to look at those claims. But as it becomes apparent that Robert is serious and isn't going to back down as more evidence comes to light, Phil and other power-brokers at DuPont bristle at the allegations and mount their defense, all while the residents of the town are none too happy about charges being made about their biggest employer and benefactor.

As Robert continues his investigation and discovers that all things lead to the company's development of the non-stick chemical Teflon, he digs in and isn't about to back down, even if such determination begins to put a strain on his job, marriage and health.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
It's shocking that human beings -- heck, all species of life for that matter -- have managed to survive considering what a toxic wasteland we've made of our tiny home dot in the universe ever since the industrial revolution.

Beyond anything and everything that's been dumped into landfills over the centuries -- and leaked into the groundwater, run off into streams or wafted up into the air -- we've had corporations large and small (but mostly large) along with governments dumping and pumping bad stuff into our world.

In the Marshall Islands, there's a nuclear-waste site called "The Tomb" that contains a reported three million cubic feet of radioactive waste (from U.S. military testing of nuclear bombs) where the sealed dome atop that is starting to crack open. Military munitions and related chemicals that were purposely "buried" at sea are also now at risk of being exposed and even washed up onto shores thanks to increased storm activity.

And beyond all of the chemicals and such that were purposefully discharged into various bodies of water for decades, I'm guessing a lot of similar materials were quietly buried or simply dumped on grounds across America and the world.

What's surprising about all of that is that there isn't a bigger public outcry about such practices, with that usually only occurring due to the related fallout, if you will, of such poisoning of both the Earth and all living creatures that inhabit that. And that might explain why there haven't been more big movies made about such matters outside of the likes of "Silkwood," "A Civil Action" and "Erin Brockovich."

Well, you can now add "Dark Waters" to that small, illustrious collection of watchdog flicks that feature a single hero taking on the corporate Goliath to expose such behavior and bring some degree of restitution to those harmed by that. Our "David" this time around is Robert Bilott (played with conviction by Mark Ruffalo), a lawyer who, ironically enough, is initially on the other side when the movie begins.

He's a corporate defense attorney for a firm that represents various chemical companies except for one of the biggest around, DuPont. He's recently made partner and is respected by his boss (Tim Robbins), has a loving wife (Anne Hathaway) who left that line of work to be a stay-at-home mom, and seems to have everything going for him.

But then a farmer (Bill Camp) who knows Robert's grandmother back in Parkersburg, West Virginia contacts him with evidence that DuPont's dumping of chemicals on the land abutting his farm has resulted in a different sort of fatal mad cow disease and an array of birth defects. Robert initially wants nothing to do with this matter, but once he starts looking into it a bit, the more he realizes he must do something -- and more importantly, what's right -- even if it means risking his job, marriage and more.

As directed by Todd Haynes from a script by Matthew Michael Carnahan and Mario Correa (inspired by Nathaniel Rich's 2016 The New York Times Magazine Article "The Lawyer Who Became DuPont's Worst Nightmare"), the plot follows a fairly standard but nonetheless quite effective story where the more the protagonist digs, the deeper, darker and murkier the waters become as the corporation and those running it initially try to dismiss the matter and then mount an increasingly hostile defense to cover up their wrongdoing.

If you enjoy do-gooder David vs. corporate villain Goliath type stories, this one will be right up your alley. And despite the familiar trajectory of the storyline including the professional and personal travails of the protagonist in their quest, all involved make this important tale work and will likely have you rooting for justice to prevail. I know I was, and for that and the strong performances and storytelling, "Dark Waters" rates as a 7 out of 10.




Reviewed December 2, 2019 / Posted December 6, 2019


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