Directed by Todd Haynes
15th – 21st March 2020
Reviewed by Amina Hersi
Screened at FACT Liverpool, Dark Waters explores the thrilling discovery surrounding the corruption of Chemical company DuPont; who has knowingly concealed its use of a cancer-causing Fluoride acid known as PFOA, which has been exposed to the public for decades. Even more horrifying it has been discovered that DuPont has caused decades of deformities at birth and cancerous diseases amongst its workers.
The plot opens with Wilbur Tennant; a troubled farmer from Parkburgh West Virginia who approaches an uptown Cincinnati lawyer (Robert Bilott) for help. With a strange disposition and a croaky voice, Tennant is convinced that DuPont has poisoned the creek at his farm which has killed 190 of his cows. The contrast between the fancy law building along with the expensive suits and Tennant’s dirty farmer attire is symbolic in pointing out major themes such as the powerful vs the powerless; the latter can be seen as the public & Tennant to an extent.
As Bilott investigates Tennant’s case, it appears that the horrific extent of DuPont’s actions comes to light, as their products are used in every American home. Intending to expose the truth Bilott confronts DuPont’s chief executive (Victor Garber) a shady character who’s overly friendly and polite nature is overturned by a salty glare, it is clear the company is concealing a dark secret.
Simultaneously whilst the case is running, Tennant’s health and livelihood takes a decline and even results in his death whilst the case is still running. Parallel to this, Bilott’s personal life is also strained as he becomes subject to several pay cuts. A case this big and unpredictable causes strain within his own marriage as. Anne Hathaway who plays his wife adds to that emotional pull.
The plot thickens with the use of paranoia in the scene where Bilott discovers the waters in his home are also filled with poison. The film is gut wrenching for the most part as tensions rise when Bilott switches from protecting companies such as DuPont at a time to now taking them on to protect the public; providing the audience with hope. Ruffalo plays Bilott with calm perplexity: outrage, perseverance, selfless.
What appears to be a long, tiring two-decade court battle Bilott finally gets a call from the non-bias scientific panel (7 years after the tests where proposed). Confirming volunteers tested positive for numerous diseases including liver cancer caused by DuPont’s use of cancer-causing, man-made acid PFOA. DuPont finally settled in 2017 for $671 million, 19 years after Bilott first began in 1998.
Dark Waters is at times tense and upsetting. From the switch of cattle carcasses in the beginning of the film to the painful discovery of harm to humans, blink and you can miss crucial evidence.
If there is an underlying message in this film, it is that whether you are working in the corporate world or as an average labourer we should all call out corruption when we see it.
With themes of corruption, company negligence and environmental scandal the film highlights the wrongful actions of the powers that be and how they will exploit just about anyone for commercial gain. Dark Waters is a legal thriller that is well worth the emotional journey.