Dark Waters Movie Review
Mark Ruffalo is Erin Brockovich in Dark Waters, an entertaining and disturbing true story about a massive corporate cover-up. Sure, Ruffalo is an odd choice to replace Julia Roberts in this unofficial sequel, though Ruffalo does his best to capture the actress’s mannerisms and facial expressions.
In Dark Waters, Brockovich has been renamed Robert Bilott, a corporate lawyer who has just become partner at his law firm—which specializes in defending chemical companies. But when a farmer, a friend of his grandmother, comes seeking legal help claiming that a nearby Dupont plan has poisoned his land and killed most of his animals, Bilott gets drawn into a multiyear class-action lawsuit against the massive company.
Many critics have made note that Dark Waters, directed by critically acclaimed filmmaker Todd Haynes, doesn’t feel much like a Todd Haynes movie—but considering I found Carol rather dull and Far From Heaven quite awful, what’s most notable to me is that Dark Waters is an accessible, engaging and entertaining drama—even if it is straightforward and predictable.
The movie follows all the normal beats you’d expect from a “sole lawyer goes up against the big, evil corporation” film—a proven subgenre that has churned out some successful productions over the years. Even still, Haynes delivers a satisfying experience highlighted by a terrific performance by Ruffalo. The role will probably fly under the radar come award season, but that shouldn’t take away from the Hulk’s emotionally charged performance.
The movie itself maybe dabbles a bit more with the drama around Bilott’s obsession with the case—though Anne Hathaway gets stuck in the thankless wife/mom role, she nonetheless is given some opportunity to play off Ruffalo’s increasingly haggard character and make the most of her screen time—but otherwise doesn’t veer too far away from the formula that has worked for other films. There are a few parts that don’t entirely work, like a scene that has Ruffalo driving deep into a subterranean parking garage for a meeting (where is the meeting room exactly?) and then him hesitating to turn his car back on for fear of death, a threat alluded to only in this one fleeting moment.
Dark Waters isn’t groundbreaking but it’s quality cinema; thanks to a powerhouse performance by Mark Ruffalo and a strong supporting turn by Hathaway, it’s a movie that could probably wait until video but deserves to be seen nonetheless. It’s a worthy sequel for Ms. Brockovich.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.