Monday, December 2, 2019

Dark Waters - Review

A drama about a chemical company poisoning citizens and the court proceedings that follow it hardly sounds like an entertaining venture on the surface, but reality plays out differently. Though entertaining may be the wrong description, Dark Waters aims to be enthralling more than anything, its execution is solid. However, the bar for films such as this are difficult to clear, and even if Dark Waters has talent behind it and elements that do work, it doesn’t quite make the leap.

A tenacious attorney, Robert Bilott (Mark Ruffalo), uncovers a dark secret that connects a growing number of unexplained deaths to one of the world's largest corporations. While trying to expose the truth, he soon finds himself risking his future, his family and his own life.

At a glance, Dark Waters appears drab and gray, a story with little room for anything with style, no time for flashy or showy scenes. Unfortunately, that’s the case even as the film progresses deeper and deeper into the world. It’s a departure for director Todd Haynes, known to bring his own style to his projects, in that it really amounts to a film that could’ve been made by anyone. The film is a procedural, executed as such, and moves with efficiency, but if you didn’t see Haynes’ name in the credits, you’d have no idea he had a hand in making it.
If nothing else, its a film that functions as a good outrage piece. For some, it may hit really close to home, whether that means literally in West Virginia or in dealings with forever chemicals in Teflon products and the fallout from ingesting them. For others, it will effectively make you question and check every piece of household cooking item you may own, just to be safe. But those bits of anger or fear don’t make for a stellar film or story even, it just makes people talk, and then forget why Teflon even entered their mind to begin with.

Still, the film is competently made, a solid watch for the performances at the very least. Ruffalo gets back to some avenging, though minus the big green rage monster, and taps into some of that old Spotlight energy, even if the material is far from the level of effort he delivers. Bill Camp, as the farmer Wilbur Tennant, disappears into the gruff, mumbling, sometime unintelligible role, an accurate portrayal by all accounts. And then there’s Anne Hathaway, who tries everything she can, with the help of Haynes, to be more than the worried wife, but the script just can’t provide her enough to be anything more.

Dark Waters is a solid film, but one that is bound to be buried in the avalanche of awards season hopefuls that actually have enough juice to get there. While Haynes’ direction is nothing to gawk at with its lack of style in any way, it gets the job done for the story it wants to tell. Ruffalo and Camp deliver good performances, and it’s successful in enraging the audience. But it still just feels like a missed opportunity, a waste of talent on a film that’s destined to be forgotten. 

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