Mark Ruffalo must really have it out for the DuPont company. First he co-starred in 2014’s Foxcatcher, an examination of the scandal behind John du Pont’s hosting of Olympic wrestlers that ended in tragedy. And now he plays lawyer Rob Bilott in Dark Waters, the true story behind DuPont’s attempts to cover-up their pollution of the environment and the poisoning of thousands of people.
The information revealed in this movie is shocking. Everyone needs to know that DuPont knowingly pushed a product line of Teflon products that cause cancer and birth defects. Director Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven, Carol) shot on location in Ohio and West Virginia where the events really took place. Some of the victims appear in the movie — most notably a man born with only one nostril and an eye deformity because his mother worked on DuPont’s Teflon line while she was pregnant. You’ll get angry as you watch Ruffalo uncover more and more damning information in his case against the company. And you’ll want to see the company destroyed for what it has done. And that’s why Dark Waters doesn’t make for a satisfying dramatic story. Because it doesn’t have that ending — or much of an ending at all, really.
I really like Ruffalo in most movies, but there’s little charisma in his performance here. He’s always tired and stressed, with too few opportunities to accentuate his character’s passion and drive. It’s almost as if he and Haynes looked at Julia Roberts’ magnetic turn in Erin Brockovich and decided to do just the opposite. He’s surrounded by a top-notch supporting cast that includes Anne Hathaway as his wife and Tim Robbins as his boss — roles that would normally be antagonistic in this kind of movie. I was grateful to see both these roles more complicated than that. Bill Pullman makes the most of a smaller role, playing a colorful country lawyer. Victor Garber gives one of the strongest performances as a DuPont executive that plays chummy with Ruffalo until things get serious. Bill Camp is memorable as the gruff farmer who instigates the litigation by taking Ruffalo to his cattle grave yard.
Dark Waters has the beginnings of a great dramatic story for the big screen, and goodness knows the talent is there. But sticking true-to-life doesn’t always make for the best movies. You won’t feel satisfied when the story comes to an end, but you will be much more aware. And maybe that’s the point.