Dark Waters movie review: capitalism will kill ya

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Dark Waters green light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

If you like these sorts of movies, you’ll like this one, a solid SJW drama out to condemn, with plenty of evidence, profit-above-all capitalism that embraces willful negligence and corruption.
I’m “biast” (pro): love a good SJW drama; love Ruffalo and the cast, love Haynes
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
I have not read the source material
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
male director, male screenwriter, male protagonist
(learn more about this)

Teflon is the Devil’s manmade chemical compound? Mark Ruffalo as a social justice warrior? Checks out — no lies detected. Todd Haynes does Erin Brockovich? Really? Okay. The director of delicate, intimate dramas about repression and secrecy such as Carol and Far from Heaven doesn’t seem the likeliest choice to head up a based-on-fact legal drama like that of the real-life lawyer, Rob Bilott (Ruffalo: Avengers: Endgame), corporate defense attorney turned activist lawyer who took on chemical giant DuPont over the poisoning of *checks notes* the entire planet and every living creature on it. Yet here we are.

If you like these sorts of movies, you’ll like Dark Waters, based on a 2016 New York Times article “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare” by Nathaniel Rich. It is solidly performed by an incredible cast, also including Anne Hathaway (Serenity) as The Wife, Victor Garber (Self/less) as The Corporate Baddie, and Tim Robbins (A Perfect Day) as The Law Firm Boss. It is more keenly — and horrifically — observed as a horror story than these kinds of films usually are: the 1990s-era farmer who jumpstarts this legal odyssey with VHS tapes of his homegrown animal necropsies and keeps the diseased organs of his cows wrapped in kitchen foil is right outta The X-Files.

Dark Waters
Old white men sitting around conference tables will be the death of us all.

Ruffalo’s journey from naive corporate drone — who genuinely seems to believe (at first) that big companies can “self-regulate” and wouldn’t lie to cover their asses — to gung-ho SJW who uses his insider-ish knowledge of how corporate America works to prosecute corporate America is, well, classic Ruffalo. The film’s insistence that “DuPont knew” for decades about the dangers of its products — like how tobacco companies knew about lung cancer and how oil companies have known about global warming — may be the least surprising thing about yet another movie that is ultimately out to condemn, with good reason and with plenty of evidence, profit-above-all capitalism that embraces willful negligence and corruption, and which thinks that “Better living through chemistry” (DuPont’s actual motto) is a good, positive, happy slogan, and not like something out of Orwell.

I am totally on board with all of this and have no problem with any of it… but Dark Waters still doesn’t feel like a Todd Haynes film.

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