There’s nothing that riles people up more than a little guy vs. the world story. Dark Waters by Todd Haynes is the legal thriller based on the true story of a small lawyer’s long and strenuous battle against the mega chemical corporation DuPont. If there was ever a time to get immensely embittered at humanity during this festive time of the year, Dark Waters is it.
Because the film is based on a true story, there isn’t much room to be made for crazy twists and turns. Though that’s not to say there isn’t. Dark Waters really tests the ground of patience and makes you want to know what’s going on the longer you watch, and honestly if this movie lasted another 30 to 60 minutes with more of what was going on at the end, I would’ve gladly watched. There are plenty of ways for a legal thriller movie to sidetrack itself or flub its pacing, but luckily that was not an issue here whatsoever.
As mentioned, the movie follows a lawyer, Rober Billot (Mark Ruffalo), his wife Sarah Billot (Anne Hathaway), and a few other assorted characters as the dubious and inhumane actions of DuPont slowly start to get peeled back in an everlasting and grueling long legal battle that spurred over a no-name farmer concerned over his animals’ health. Though not only does it follow the actual battle, it follows the effects it has on Billot and his family and how strenuous it can be to take on this fight. Dark Waters is a slow churn into the good stuff, but symbolically, I think that’s kind of the point. On the outside this looked like just a meaningless battle that a lowly farmer wanted looked into, which made it easy to gloss over him. What the movie doesn’t prepare you for is exactly how long this battle is going to take, and that was an absolute ride.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
This was the only section that I could really think of to fault the movie for. The cast of characters for the most part is great. I loved the side characters, and I even liked the characters that showed up for just a little bit. I think the extras were great too. There’s a particular diner scene where I loved the vibe I got from it all. However, Ruffalo came off as a bit flat to me. For being the lead in many of the scenes, I don’t think he particularly flourished in many. A few moments when something big was happening, yeah, he turned it up, but even the chemistry between him and Hathaway felt like there was a little more to be desired. I wasn’t unhappy with his acting nor do I think it was bad-- but I definitely expected more from a lawyer who should’ve come off more and more exhausted as time goes on.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
As with the visuals, the music also follows a sort of dreadful notion. You never get anything too uplifting, and even if you do, it’s short-lived. The music accompanies the visuals so incredibly well that I was enthralled through and through. The music composer for Dark Waters, Marcelo Zarvos, doesn’t have much notable under his belt, but I was very happy with his arrangement here.
Being a movie that spans years, you want to see the progression of age and I think that was completely well done here. Everyone started getting more gray, and the side characters who were older in the beginning began almost decaying in front of us the longer this was drawn out.
The film was shot in a sort of blue tint which reminded me of the Netflix series Ozark, but not quite to that extreme. This led to a sort of flat but heavy tone throughout the movie. Never did you feel like there was a bright and colorful end to this ride with the way it’s shot. It’s winter, rainy, overcast, and blue. That increased the amount of dread, which was awesome.
Dark Waters is a frustrating, dreadful, and incredible show of not only fortitude from Ruffalo’s character, but of what a company would really do to hide a harmful truth to the masses. You sort of become mesmerized and invested as time goes on to the point where you just want more of this movie, and a movie that leaves you wanting more is always better than a movie that overstays its welcome. This was 100% one of my most favorite unexpected hits of the year.