This new fact based drama from Todd Haynes (Wonderstruck, Far From Heaven) is a legal thriller in the vein of Erin Brockovich and A Civil Action (set and filmed in Massachusetts with Mark Ruffalo Spotlight) who, like Haynes, is an environmental activist.
Why isn’t it as intriguing as it should have been in uncovering chemical behemoth DuPont causing much pollution in West Virginia initially from run-off due to chemical (PFOC from Teflon) dumping? Probably because it seems too pallid and cliched for the usually progressive indie auteur in its varied intense interplay. It just seems a bit away that Haynes tackles this material based on past decades to nearly the present in such a routine fashion.
Edward Lachman’s lensing offers the gloomy atmosphere with which Haynes and Ruffalo’s Cincinnati attorney Rob Bilott operate emphasized by discord at home. Bilott’s consternation is toned-down compared to what Ruffalo did under Tom McCarthy’s direction about the Boston-area coverup of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. Children end up having black teeth and tumors beset bovines as Rob learns to much dismay.
Anne Hathaway as Rob’s wife Sarah, is relegated to a lower priority here as she was once a lawyer and fluctuates often between anger and fear in trying to be a supporter. Bill Camp as a farmer, Bill Pullman and Victor Garber (as attorneys) lend some plausible backup as the stealthy harmful effects gradually simmer.
While “Dark Waters” has its moments that provide a timely insistence and call to action there isn’t the potency whether in the discourse or characterizations needed to clearly striving to meet. It definitely has a Teflon durability about it but doesn’t resonate like an earlier Haynes foray into the environment Safe.