(director/writer: Todd Haynes; screenwriters: Mario Correa/Matthew Michael Carnahan/magazine article by Nathan Rich; cinematographer: Edward Lachman; editor: Affonso Goncalves; music: Marcelo Zarvos; cast: Anne Hathaway (Sarah Bilott), Bill Camp (Wilbur Tennant), Mark Ruffalo (Robert Bilott), Tim Robbins (Tom Terp), Bill Pullman (Harry Dietzler), Mare Winningham (Darlene Kiger), Victor Garger (Phil Donnelly), William Jackson Harper (James Ross), Louisa Krause (Karla), Kevin Crowley (Larry Winter), Bruce Cromer (Kim Burke), Denise Dal Vera (Sandra Tennant); Runtime: 126; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Mark Ruffalo, Christine Vachon, Pamela Koffler; Focus Features; 2019)

“Solid but not scintillating activist film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Todd Haynes (“I’m Not There”/”Carol”) the indie maverick filmmaker goes the conventional route (none of his usual artistry here) as he directs this public service feature of a big company polluting. It’s an environmental thriller telling of corporate greed, indifference and criminal behavior. Nothing unexpected is revealed except for the expected dirt on how bad are these corporate environmental violators and how the ordinary citizen gets the business from them. The true story is based on a health crises over pollution that was ripped-from-the-headlines. The solid but not scintillating activist film, that a lesser talent than Haynes could have probably just as adequately helmed, is based on a magazine article by Nathan Rich and is co-written by Haynes, Mario Correa and Matthew Michael Carnahan.

The bland crusading attorney from Cincinnati Rob Bilott (Mark Ruffalo), formerly an advocate for the polluting chemical giant DuPont before seeing the light, now specializes in defending companies in Superfund-related lawsuits against polluters.

The gist of the film is built around the 1998 case Rob takes involving a West Virginia farmer, Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp), who maintains that the local DuPont plant is poisoning his herd of cattle by dumping toxic chemicals in a landfill near his farm. This in turn pollutes the creek and kills his livestock. Despite opposition from his law firm Rob, who was raised in West Virginia, takes the case and it turns out to be a big deal that takes a lot out of him.

While Rob is fully occupied fighting Dupont’s stall tactics (who stonewall the case for 17 years through legal trickery; these delays sap his health and cause him to lose clients) and doing detective work on the environment (whereby he uncovers links between cancers and birth defects caused by Dupont’s unlawful actions), his faithful lawyer wife turned housewife Sarah (Anne Hathaway, in a thankless minor role) must take charge of the family and stands by him even if wanting him to drop the case.

Top actors like Tim Robbins and Bill Pullman play principled attorneys, which could have been played by lesser thespians and we wouldn’t have been the worse for it.

In the genre list of very good social activist dramas such as Norma Rae, Matewan, Silkwood and The Insider, this proves to also be a good one and a necessary one in providing information.

Dark Waters

REVIEWED ON 11/23/2019  GRADE: B   https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/