Dark Waters (Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, Victor Garber, Bill Pullman) — If you liked the 1998 John Travolta film, A Civil Action, you will enjoy Dark Waters. Mark Ruffalo stars as Rob Bilott, a corporate lawyer from Cincinnati who takes a case about chemical contamination in a town in West Virginia.
As in A Civil Action (also based on a true story), the case becomes a compulsion for Bilott. It becomes his life, his only case. It impacts his health, his family, his stature in the firm, and his reputation. His obsession lasts years as he fights DuPont, the kind of company he used to defend. As he uncovers their deceit and the hundreds of lives their actions have impacted, the audience in drawn in.
Filmed in dark tones and replete with atonal, ominous music, Dark Waters attempts to turn a dull, prolonged legal case into a taut drama. It succeeds about as well as A Civil Action or Erin Brockovich does, which is to say it is clearly contrived but not boring. It is a character study with an interesting story where the outcome is predictable.
Ruffalo is perhaps the least well known 3-time Oscar nominee. He has done best in ensemble films like Spotlight, The Last Castle, the Now You See Me films, and a series of super-hero movies, but he is also an incredibly reliable reluctant-hero type. His co-stars in Dark Waters, Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, and Victor Garber, deliver good but not memorable performances. Hathaway, particularly, seems wasted.
I doubt this film will garner much box office, but it is well worth your time if you enjoy these types of “loner takes on corrupt corporate giant” stories.