The legal drama/thriller has been a mainstay of cinema for a number of years. Enthralling audiences with stories of the lone legal professional taking on the military, government or business for public good. However, these drama’s are often simplistic in tone, summarising long and bitter legal battles in 150 minutes of screen time. But with Todd Haynes (Carol) latest film Dark Waters based on the New York Times magazine article by Nathaniel Rich. The simplicity of the legal drama is turned on its head, reflecting a far more realistic spit and sawdust battle to hold truth to power, for the sake of public health and wellbeing. Ultimately delving into the grit and determination needed to ensure justice in corporate America. While never shying away from the human costs of taking on the worlds corporate giants.
Taking place over a period stretching from 1998 to the present day. Haynes carves a riveting portrait of one man’s tenacity in uncovering the truth. One that speaks to a historical pattern of corruption and public dismissal in many of the worlds biggest companies. While equally building a nuanced picture of the role both money and employment play in silencing communities.
Rob Bilott (Mark Ruffalo) is a corporate lawyer from Ohio who had built his career representing powerful chemical companies. But when an angry and downtrodden West Virginia farmer called Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp) turns up at his office, Bilott finds himself intrigued by Tennant’s story. A story of livestock dying from cancers, madness and disease. While the nearby factory of global giant Dupont spews clouds of material into the atmosphere. However, the truth is far darker than anyone concerned could have imagined. As the history of Teflon production and the community at its heart is slowly uncovered. By a lawyer who uses his inside knowledge of the industry to turn public attention to the wilful manipulation and corruption of a global chemical giant.
Apart from dissecting the toxicity of Teflon and its effects on people and the environment. Haynes also nimbly dissects the relationship between Governments, corporate power and people. Exploring the fear of public knowledge, the arrogance of the boardroom and the power of money in covering tracks. These are themes that speak to a world where many corporate giants now wield more power than elected officials. But also delicately reflects a world where political trust is placed in the hands of those who have managed the very companies the political establishment should scrutinise. Ultimately creating an ever more protected world of profit over people.
Mark Ruffalo excels as a reluctant hero of public health, creating a character who is both believable and assured. While equally emotionally divided in his unwitting role as a defender of the public right to challenge power. And surrounded by a highly skilled ensemble cast who reflect the crevasse between public knowledge and corporate power. Dark Waters truly excels in not only reflecting a righteous anger at the actions of Dupont. But also the travesty of a failed political and regulatory safety net in ensuring public protection. However, this is also a film that asks us all to question the motives of the big businesses surrounding us. Including the interface between public good, profit and media image. Ultimately delivering one of the finest legal drama’s of the past year, alongside a truly important exploration of corporate crime.
Director: Todd Haynes