The opening scene of Todd Haynes’ latest feature immediately evokes Jaws, as a group of giggling, beer-fueled teenagers trespass for a midnight swim. The killer in the water, however, is not quite as easy to prove as Spielberg’s great white. Dark Waters is a profoundly frustrating film, which both enhances and detracts from the real-life drama at hand. Watching legal battles drag on for years is not exactly cinematic – especially as Mario Correa and Matthew Michael Carnahan’s screenplay refuses to gloss over the minutiae of lawsuits and plea deals. That said, the inherent exasperation seems to accurately represent the endless setbacks, obfuscations, and heartaches inherent in fighting for corporate environmental justice.

Dark Waters does not have time to properly explore the interlocking social and political sides of this story – some of the more fascinating real-life aspects of the case against DuPont, such as its media branding as a case against the regional economy and top employer, have no space to grow beyond topical mentions. The omnipresence of the toxic water, however, is a compelling thread as Rob Bilott (an understated Mark Ruffalo) meets family, friends, and coworkers for dinners and drinks. Underplaying this constant, invisible threat in performances and framing drives home its inescapability. Haynes and cinematographer Edward Lachman bring the warm colours of ’90s film to the earlier, more hopeful portions, and watching the colours cool and the shapes become ever so slightly more defined represents the film’s progression into the bleaker 2010s as effectively as the surtitles.

Dark Waters ends with a dire message and an awareness that life on Earth may never be the same. The film’s markedly uncinematic style and broad scope convey the immensity of Bilott’s fight against DuPont but loses engagement in the process.



CAST: Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, Bill Camp, Victor Garber

DIRECTOR: Todd Haynes

WRITERS: Mario Correa, Matthew Michael Carnahan

SYNOPSIS: A corporate defense attorney uncovers a community poisoned by the DuPont chemical corporation and turns against his former employer in a decades-long legal battle.