Film Review: “Dark Waters”

Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway and Tim Robbins
Directed by: Todd Haynes
Rated: R
Running Time: 126 minutes
Focus Features

“Dark Waters” sounds like the title to a horror movie, and it kind of is. Potentially, probably, most likely, sitting in your gut right now is a chemical that you didn’t know you were being poisoned with. It was marketed as safe and did what it was supposed to do, help make life a little more convenient. The solutions to some of our minor inconveniences means that these secret chemicals will take forever to break down. That means even after we’re dead and decomposed, they will still be there.

“Dark Waters” is about the moral journey of corporate lawyer, Andrew Billott (Ruffalo). He goes from defending the big boys to defending the little guy. It comes after he’s approached by West Virginia farmer, Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp). Not only are Tennant’s cows dying at an alarming rate, but their remains reveal startling organ problems and grotesque mutations. Tennant believes the American conglomerate, DuPont, is to blame. Tennant says their landfill upstream poisoned the water that his cow’s drink from. What Billott doesn’t know, is that he’s about to uncover a decades-long public health crisis, that’s been kept under wraps.

Based on real-life events documents in a New York Times Magazine article, “Dark Waters” is a 21st century David vs. Goliath. It’s not only about corporate wrongdoing, but the bureaucratic red tape that’s allowed it to fester outside the public eye. We learn how DuPont stepped through gaping loopholes in the EPA’s regulatory system, and then attempted to take advantage of the political system, at the local, state and federal level, when Billott busts out the flashlight and begins digging through DuPont’s dirty laundry.

Ruffalo, whose characters should be foaming mad, and sometimes is, plays Billott as a modest, soft and well-spoken attorney. He’s angry behind-the-scenes, but when coming face-to-face with DuPont’s legal team and leaders, he’s methodical and calm. It’s the kind of performance that makes it seem like every other actor is overacting, especially when Tim Robbins sticks his head in. This is Ruffalo’s vehicle, as it should be since his name is all over it, and he takes command of the ship with extraordinary confidence.

Despite the message and Ruffalo’s performance, “Dark Waters” suffers from a choppy pace and the overwhelming feeling that’s it outstaying it’s welcome towards the end. Granted, it’s a two-hour movie that tries to condense a decade and a half or more worth of actual content. But there’s still a lot of odd editing choices. At times, the movie smartly condenses years with on-screen text to show the passage of time or fill the audience in on some key plot points. Other times, it appears to be twiddling it’s thumbs, content with unnecessary back story and a handful of bizarre cameos. Cameos that feel a little grotesque considering the movie’s content. It barrels forward at full-steam in the beginning, but begins to lose a lot of its punch as the movie comes to a close, which is a bit unfortunate.

“Dark Waters” is the kind of film that should make us all feel concerned about the kind of toxins that have been deemed safe by the government, as well as the products that are continually marketed as safe by unchecked corporate America. Even though this movie is far from perfect, Ruffalo should feel proud to have his name all over this. Anyone who sees this movie will think twice about the marketing fed to them daily, the companies that promise to have their best interest, and the politicians who say “Trust us.”

NYCC 2019: Hulu’s Castle Rock

The cast of Hulu’s Castle Rock at MSG during New York Comic Con

Just in time for Halloween, Hulu is ready to invite viewers back to the not-so-sleepy town of Castle Rock. The fictional Maine location may sound familiar to even casual horror fans, as it features across the many works of Stephen King. To celebrate the launch of season 2, the cast of the anthology series joined fans at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden for a screening of the premiere episode at this year’s New York Comic Con.

The highlight of the premiere was the debut of Lizzy Caplan as “Stephen King’s nurse from hell” Annie Wilkes. Wilkes was the star of King’s Misery where she was willing to go to lethal lengths to get her way from James Caan’s stranded author character. Bates famously won an Academy Award for her performance and if you had asked me if I needed to see more background on her character I may have doubted you until this episode. Caplan channels her own unblinking manic energy and manages to make Wilkes’s “cockadoody” vernacular her very own. As a bonus, she has the wonderful Elsie Fisher (Eighth Grade) as a daughter to play off of in this series.

Lizzy Caplan (“Annie Wilkes”) and Elsie Fisher (“Joy Wilkes”

While I won’t go into spoilers for the show, suffice to say there was at least one jaw dropping scene that made checking the show out in the massive NYCC audience incredibly satisfying.

Head over to our NYCC Facebook album to see even more photos from the panel which also featured Shawshank Redemption alum Tim Robbins

Tim Robbins (“Pop Merrill”)

Castle Rock season 2 is available on Hulu starting October 23rd.