An Eco-thriller told through the Eyes of a True American Underdog
In the latest upcoming movie from Focus Features and “Carol” director Todd Haynes, Mark Ruffalo plays corporate attorney Rob Bilott, a corporate defendant who represented DuPont for the better part of his career. When a small West Virginia town shows Bilott the chemicals that DuPont is dumping in their water, though, he changes allegiances, embarking on a harrowing true story that becomes the central narrative for “Dark Waters.”
“Dark Waters” is an eco-cinematic adventure disguised as an intense, informant style crime movie. While most “environmental films” center on either the vast wonders of the natural world or post-apocalyptic nightmares, “Dark Waters” takes the sub-genre in a more grounded and familiar direction.
There is nothing sublime about “Dark Waters”—except perhaps the performances and the cinematic art. The film’s setting switches off between a corporate office and a lowly West Virginia town. There are no beautiful mountaintops or thrilling action fights; just a daringly authentic image of America meddling in corruption. It may be slow moving, but that measured pace creates suspense and an uncommonly candid depiction of what it takes to fight people in power for the sake of eco-friendly reformation—something we’ve come all too familiar with in the modern fight against the climate crisis.
An Honest Look at Real life Environmental Heroism
As Ruffalo’s character turns his back on DuPont and starts to file cases against the company he once worked for, he uncovers more and more disturbing details about the conglomerate’s lack of environmental consideration. In the small West Virginia town, he learns that cows are dying in fields, that the streams are running with chemicals, and eventually, that this contaminated substance may be in the community’s drinking water. All throughout the investigation, though, DuPont grows more suspicious and Bilott more paranoid, believing that the company may stop at nothing to hide their wrongdoings.
The movie has echoes of “All The President’s Men” and “The Post,” but with a plot placed on a much smaller scale. Bilott is not a celebrated hero that earned national praise for his bravery. He is an unsung hero who did the right thing, and challenged the almighty masses for the sake of a few defenseless people.
Rob Bilott is a real person. He is still alive today. Sadly, you probably won’t find his name in the history books. On the other hand, DuPont remains a multi-billion dollar company and a household name in America. In today’s movie market filled with superheroes and warriors, “Dark Waters” gives us an honest illustration of what heroism really looks like, and the thanklessness that can often come with making the right decision.
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