Mark Ruffalo in Dark Waters (2019)

Director Todd Haynes takes a somewhat different turn with his latest feature DARK WATERS, a whistleblower drama about corporate corruption

3 out of 5 stars

It’s fair to say that DARK WATERS isn’t your typical Todd Haynes movie. The American Director, best known for his pioneering queer cinema and inventive cinematic style, takes a somewhat different turn with his latest feature, DARK WATERS, a whistleblower drama about corporate corruption.

Based on a true story, DARK WATERS follows Robert Bilott (Mark Ruffalo), a corporate defence attorney who is approached by Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp), a troubled farmer who believes the DuPont Company is responsible for polluting his property. Bilott takes on the legal crusade against the chemical company, exposing a lengthy history of pollution, but one which also drags on for two decades, adversely impacting his career, his marriage and his health.

Bill Camp and Mark Ruffalo in Dark Waters (2019)

Right from the opening scene of DARK WATERS, there is an underlying sense that you can’t help but feel like you’ve seen this story before. Screenwriters Mario Correa and Matthew Michael Carnahan communicate this true-crime drama without an ounce of pretense, but as a result, DARK WATERS feels almost indistinguishable from other political thrillers like Tom McCarthy’s SPOTLIGHT.

Fans of Haynes’ previous film may also be disappointed with the lack of visual stylings we come to expect from the Director. While Carol Edward Lachman’s cinematography employs a colour palette of sickly, desaturated blues and greens to successfully evoke the spoilage of beauty, there isn’t anything uniquely cinematic here.

Instead, DARK WATERS opts to focus on the story, with strong central performances from its small but talented cast. As Bilott, Mark Ruffalo is perfectly cast as the down-to-earth lawyer trapped between moral conviction and obsession. His portrayal is quiet, fragile and dignified, which makes it all the more pleasing when he eventually rallies against the world’s evils.

Mark Ruffalo and Barry Mulholland in Dark Waters (2019)

Tim Robbins delivers a strong performance as Bilott’s boss while Bill Camp gives the film plenty of heart as Wilbur Tennant, the farmer whose arc tragically travels from anger to grief.

The only real disappointment is Anne Hathaway as Bilott’s conflicted wife Sarah. Don’t get me wrong, Hathaway is excellent here, giving the film much that needed edge but it’s a small and somewhat thankless role for the Oscar winner and her characterization feels especially thin.

That said, DARK WATERS is still a strong and involving film and one which is sure to resonate with many. The fact that this feels like such a familiar story also makes it all the more terrifying.

DARK WATERS is released in UK cinemas from 28 February 2020