Dark Waters – Review

Worth seeing: for Mark Ruffalo's determination to see justice done against the odds in a less engaging, male-centred version of Erin Brockovich
Director:Todd Haynes
Featuring:Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, Bill Camp, Bill Pullman, Mare Winningham, Tim Robbins, Victor Garber, William Jackson Harper
Length:127 minutes
Released:28th February 2020


Robert Bilott (Mark Ruffalo) has recently become a partner at a big Cincinnati law firm that mostly defends large corporations in civil cases.

When he’s visited by a farmer (Bill Camp) from his mother’s village, he learns that cattle are dying, apparently as a result of drinking water that’s run off land owned by the local DuPont chemical works.

Robert agrees to look into the case, against the better judgement of many of his colleagues, and the deeper he digs, the more secrets he uncovers about how much DuPont knew about the dangers its production methods were causing not just to animals, but to thousands of people living in the area.

He soon discovers that even with insurmountable evidence to show that right is on your side, Corporate America will make you fight to your last breath – and often beyond – to secure justice.


This is the true story of a long fight for justice for thousands of people living near DuPont’s Cincinnati factory, where world-leading products such as non-stick pans are manufactured.

It was a by-product of making that non-stick surface that, it turned out, put toxins into the local water supply, which would ultimately lead to organ failure, cancer, death and deformity in animals and humans alike.

And the evidence – from DuPont’s own vaults – suggested that there were those at the company who knew about the risks but kept them quiet.

This has clearly been a passion project for producer/star Mark Ruffalo and it is definitely a story worth telling, as it highlights the power of major corporations and the corruption that comes with it.

But it’s not the first time we’ve seen such stories and Mark Ruffalo’s quietly spoken, paper-pushing lawyer doesn’t have the same screen presence as Julia Roberts’ fast-talking red-neck in the similarly themed Erin Brockovich.

The real-life case stretching over a decade makes the big screen telling drag a little too.

The drama also feels like it’s trying to cheat viewers too, with a couple of moments where it feels like the story is going somewhere really dark, with paranoia that DuPont might stop at nothing to silence its critics, but such avenues turn out to be dead ends, making what – for a moment – seemed tense become dramatically irrelevant.

Perhaps it’s interesting to note that the more you fight and the closer you get to you goal, the more paranoid you get, but it doesn’t make the evil corporation any more evil.

Of course, a “based-on-real-life” story can’t play with the truth for dramatic effect, but raising fears that are unfounded detracts from the drama and loses the faith of the audience.

The determination of Ruffalo’s protagonist, despite what the fight was doing to him and those around him is admirable. Tim Robbins is enjoyable as his boss, although his attitude towards the case seems to sway wildly – and sometimes it feels a bit Schrödinger – but most of the other supporting characters seem oddly drawn; Anne Hathaway seems to be wasted as Ruffalo’s wife, Bill Camp is portrayed as little more than a grunting and growling hick while most of the lawyers – on both sides of the debate – are as slippery as DuPont’s non-stick surface.

Oddly, one of the most sympathetic characters of the lot is the newly arrived head of DuPont, who’s clearly completely out of his depth, facing tough questions from lawyers without having been adequately briefed about what his company did more than fifty years earlier. Although he’s portrayed as the big bad guy, he’s probably more just the poor guy being brought in to clean up after the bad guy.

Ruffalo’s passion piece is a tough sell – lots of earnest talking – old documents in dusty boxes – chemical formulae in dark corners of dingy diners – unfounded paranoia and long periods of waiting – but it’s a story worth knowing and a story worth telling.