Movie Review: “Dark Waters” is a noble but hard to watch slog

“Dark Waters” is the kind of film that needs to be made. The true story of a chemical company essentially poisoning an entire town, and then engineering the cover up is a project that deserves attention. Unfortunately, for it’s audiences it’s a very hard watch with little reward for the task.

Mark Ruffalo plays environmental attorney, Robert Bilott, someone who works for a firm that is used to defending chemical companies instead of prosecuting them. His life is turned upside down when a farmer from a West Virginia town comes to him for help regarding a chemical company he suspects is behind the bizarre death of the animals on his farm. As Bilott digs further he uncovers evidence that stretches back decades and provokes the wrath of corporation worth billions that will do what it has to in order to protect their operation.

The problem here is director, Todd Haynes, sticks us into a gloomy box of a world for over 2 hours. There is no humor. There are no points to feel anything but pain along the course of the film. We want to root for Bilott but we’re pushed into his misery as he seeks out justice. The only excitement we’re getting is through the numerous hearings regarding the case and shuffling of attorney files.

Ruffalo is good and is getting some deserved award buzz, but the best moments belong to Anne Hathaway as his struggling wife, and Tim Robbins as his tough but sympathetic boss. In fact, without those two, the film can’t pick up a pace faster than a painful crawl.

“Dark Waters” is not a bad film. And there are some strong dramatic moments, but it’s such a heavy lift of a watch, I suspect many of us will take the quietly satisfying feeling we get at the end of the story and never look back.

Dark Waters

GRADE: C+

Rated: PG 13

Running time: 2 hours and 6 minutes.

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