Dark Waters

Dec 4, 2019

In the spirit of Spotlight, this investigative docudrama is interesting and real.

Dark Waters

Grade: B

Director: Todd Haynes (Carol)

Screenplay: Matthew Michael Carnahan (Deepwater Horizon), et al.

Cast: Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight), Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables)

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 2h 6m

By: John DeSando

“The system is rigged.” Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp)

So does a 12-grade-educated farmer express the outrage against corporate and governmental criminality. If you liked Erin Brockovich, Silkwood, Norma Rae, The Insider, and Spotlight, you’ll adore Dark Waters, an anti-corporate docudrama about criminal polluting of West Virginia and the world by DuPont.

Although this is arguably the most depressing film of the year, it is also the most intensely social, showing how DuPont’s C 8 chemical affects 99% of humans on this planet.

Mark Ruffalo plays Rob Bilott, a DuPont-client attorney who turns on the company to expose its killing many W. Virginians by dumping its chemical PFOA, or C-8, into streams and holding areas and eventually world-wide products like Teflon. As Rob scours the scores of boxes of DuPont records, he slowly finds the smoking guns needed to bring justice. Of course, DuPont will fight any way it can to stop the investigation.

Like other modern heroes, Rob sacrifices his family life and his standing as a new partner in his Cincinnati law firm. Fortunately, the crying wife, Sarah (Anne Hathaway), a non-practicing attorney, and screaming kids are a minimal trope here with Sarah giving only one speech about his absence and obsession, and his boss Tom Terp (Tim Robbins) eventually coming to his side of the case.

Dark Waters is not only clear about the facts of the case, it is also heavily anti DuPont, which seem right given the company’s overt malfeasance. The film gives an honest portrait of integrity as it shows what real sacrifice for a humane cause can cost, and what it can gain by one man’s passion and sacrifice.  

The grim green-gray cinematography alone could depress most of the viewers but perfectly reflects the depressing circumstances affecting millions away from small West Virginia. 

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at