I’m not sure why I and seemingly everyone else basically shrugged when Dark Waters came out at the end of last year.
I guess, for me, it looked like something I’d seen before, where one person exposes the rot and destruction created by a massive corporation, along the lines of Erin Brockovich or The Insider. But, the thing is, those are really good movies, and Dark Waters is directed by Todd Haynes, a wildly inventive and intelligent filmmaker. So… why wasn’t I interested?
It’s the true story of a corporate defense lawyer played by Mark Ruffalo who’s contacted by a West Virginia farmer who says DuPont has been dumping chemicals near his farm, in Ruffalo’s grandmother’s hometown. Ruffalo decides to take a look — at the least to calm the farmer’s mind, especially considering DuPont is one of Ruffalo’s biggest clients — and what he uncovers reveals not just corporate negligence and abuse, but outright moral hostility. DuPont has certainly been dumping chemicals it knows are poisonous, but even more, they’ve been using chemicals in their massively popular Teflon products that they’ve known for four decades are harmful to people.
Haynes has shown so much artistry in his previous films, but he calculates correctly that Dark Waters needs to be played classically straight—for the most part he strips the movie down to process and righteous anger. This is the reality; it doesn’t need to be punched up with fancy techniques.
I’m really disturbed I was apparently so numb to this kind of story that I disregarded it when it was in the theaters. Dark Waters is a rock-solid piece of filmmaking, and it tells us something that’s necessary for us to know, and ought to make us red with outrage. Yes, we’ve seen movies like this before, but it says something deeply unpleasant about us that we keep having the opportunity to make them.
Dark Waters is available on DVD and streaming rental.