Directed By Todd Haynes
Starring – Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins
The Plot – Inspired by a shocking true story, a tenacious attorney (Ruffalo) uncovers a dark secret that connects a growing number of unexplained deaths due to one of the world’s largest corporations. In the process, he risks everything; his future, his family, and his own life, to expose the truth.
Rated PG-13 for thematic content, some disturbing images and strong adult language
– Color meaning. Edward Lachman’s already unnerving grain of cinematography is shaped even more effectively with a greyish blue coloring texture that we easily intercept as serving a dual purpose. The first is to represent something unnatural in the atmosphere, people, and motive of a company with their fingers in the cookie jars of nearly every local institution. It’s also meant to reflect the poisoning (Grey) of what’s lurking beneath the water (Blue). This creates a level of atmospheric unease that production rarely gets a chance to capitalize on, and immerses us in this small West Virginia town that feels like the most terrifying episode of “The Twilight Zone” to date. It illustrates what we know is there long before the narrative unravels itself to tell us, and convinces us in ways that supplant artistic merit to articulate it.
– Heavy stakes. This never feels like a movie-made court case, mainly because the immensity of the stakes, as well as the overwhelming sense of urgency weigh ever so heavily against the odds of the plaintiff’s. In suing a major corporation like Dupont, it’s anything but an open and close case, and instead takes years, money, and a deterioration of mental and physical health on the characters involved. This grants “Dark Waters” a believability not only in the due process of how the justice system moves, but also proves that the cases are never a series of cut-and-pasted together montages, as seen in a twenty minute depiction through most cinematic court room drama’s. So in a sense, Ruffalo’s Robert in swimming in the very same waters of uncertainty that his clients are up to their shoulders in, albeit for entirely different yet equally confining circumstances that prove the verdict is only the beginning.
– Informative. It’s no secret that I know nothing about the principles of chemistry, yet screenwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan and Mario Correa do a fine enough job of explaining things on my level, without it ever feeling meandering to the progression of the plot. As to where most movies will have multiple characters repeat the same line of dialogue to hammer home its intention, this one gives a bigger picture in the form of examples to accommodate its definitions, so that all audiences move together fluently. It’s easy to comprehend, and never feels verbally long-winded for what we’re asked to take in, giving us a script that is equally interested in the how as much as the who and the where. I certainly won’t be saving up for any chemistry sets, but this movie did its part in making me feel like a genius for two hours, and that’s NOT an easy thing to attain.
– Period piece production. This film takes place between 1998 and 2012, and while this isn’t a movie that is firmly dedicated to selling its timeframe for artistic merit in the film’s presentation, it did maintain a perfect level of consistency in keeping with the imagery and objects of the time. Most of the cars in the movie are classic ones that are prior to 1998, so no problems there, but the appearance of an Apple Macintosh Series four computer was one that took me back to my days of typing in seventh grade, complete with side monitor microphone and double spaced typing that was prominent with such an age. In addition to this, the hairstyles and wardrobe subtly give a dated quality to their appearance, and making this story take place between Ohio and West Virginia, two places that feel virtually decades outdated, granted a seamless time-traveling that appeals repetitively without ever really trying.
– Versatile casting. Tim Robbins and Bill Pullman both leave superb lasting impressions on their characters as well as to the importance of the dynamics within the narrative. Their time in front of the camera is brief, but the manner of their dialogue delivery establishes the variety in personalities for the film, which are surprisingly diverse for a film that essentially isn’t a character piece. For leads, it’s unfortunate that Hathaway’s portrayal often has her coming off as overly dramatic and theatrical, for whatever reason, where she’s limited to the supportive housewife role. She does have one impactful scene following a traumatic experience, but it’s brief for an actress of her caliber. For what Hathaway lacks, however, Ruffalo makes up in challenging fragility. As to where we’ve seen Mark impress with detailed dialogue in a movie like “Spotlight”, it’s the range in registry here that develops a healthy dose of empathy for the character that makes it easier to shed his big firm corporate lawyer rendering. Most of the shocking revelations play off of Mark’s absorbing facial resonation, bringing us no shortage of underlying emphasis on the details that weigh heavily like a wet blanket over him.
– Crisp direction. Todd Haynes has been hit or miss from me in his previous films, but here it’s his suspenseful enveloping, which transcends this slice of real life American whistleblowing into a Hollywood narrative full of cinematic suspense and paranoia. Todd’s supplants an air of soul-crushing dread that persists in a world full of conflicting optimism, and it conjures up one of the more layered approaches to a world inside of the screen that depicts the one that is just beyond it. On top of this, the social poignancy that Haynes maintains in not only raising awareness about the trusts we put in routine, but as well in the spell-binding nature of people’s belief to trust in a corporation over the very people who put roots in such a place. Haynes is a strange choice for a film surrounded in such bleak ugliness, but proves that his depth as an action isn’t limited to one respective subgenre or tonal capacity, and because of such manufactures another timely relevant film that doesn’t need the perks of glitz and glamour like his other films to hammer home the urgency of the situation.
– No preaching. The boldest kind of stories are the ones that don’t require an unnecessary level of extra emphasis to hammer home the moral fiber of its material, and “Dark Waters” thrives because of this requirement. It lays all of the facts out at the feet of not only the movie’s big money corporation antagonists, but also the audience who are taken through the grizzly facts of what has become as a result of such. So in a sense, we the people are the very same jury who are listening to the sides state their stories, who will undoubtedly materialize a side by film’s end, if not much earlier once you start comprehending what kind of film it is. On top of this, there’s a nice touch by the production to insert real victims of the real life story spontaneously throughout the extras that our ensemble come into contact with. It gives them a brief glow of sunshine in a world that for some reason has lessened the importance of their story, and proves that real people suffered as a result of one corporation’s dangerous lie.
– Disappearing pieces. One overwhelming layer of disappointment that overcame me as the film persisted into the third act, was the series of subplots and characters that once felt prominently important to the film based on consistency of attention, but became dwindling once the court case took shape. Kids that actually swim in the poisoned waters are never brought up again. Likewise, the hinting at Ruffalo’s character’s past being a West Virginia boy felt like it should’ve played a bigger part in contrast to the shocking discoveries, but he, nor the mentioned strained relationship with his Mother, is never brought up again. Finally, Bill Camp’s central witness, who brought forth this entire case in the first place, is a frequent piece of the early establishments, and then left as an afterthought once the motions are put into place. For a character with such a brash personality and grit to represent the people of West Virginia accordingly, the screenplay undervalues him in a way that abandons the voice of the people during the time it needs it the most.
– Rushed court sequences. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a sucker for courtroom drama’s, and with the importance of the case that transcends the screen as anything but fictional, this had the ability to be one of the all-time greats in that regard. Unfortunately, the film squanders this opportunity, giving us one day in court in trade for a series of off-field conversation. The film’s tell-over-showing kind of dissection really disappointed me, and definitely could’ve used an addition fifteen minutes of back-and-forth to further flesh out the evil corporation’s sinister tactics, as well as giving Pullman more time to shine in arguably his most charismatic role in over a decade. The story builds to a case that feels like it should be bigger than it rightfully is, and the final act just kind of meanders around because of it.
– Stumbling aging process. For a movie that takes place over a fourteen year period, the unintentional de-aging process that Ruffalo and definitely Hathaway’s characters take on are entirely not present with the transition of the timeline. Ruffalo’s character has grey hairs to begin with, but no more come of it with the passing years. Hathaway looks younger with a change of hairstyle that made her look as young as her real life age. For my money, even if it wasn’t factually accurate, I would’ve switched the styles around, because the bee-hive perm that she sports in the first half of the movie makes her look ten years older, and is reminiscent of a middle-aged woman. I could be wrong, but Ruffalo’s character also looks healthily thinner and more clean-cut than his earlier years, preserving a condemning quality of believable consistency with an on-going case that should instead supplant a flushed look of desperation to display everything that he has invested over such a lengthy time investment.
My Grade: 7/10 or B