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MaddWolf
Movie Reviews, DVD Picks, Shenanigans

Better Living through Chemistry

Better Living through Chemistry

Dark Waters

by Hope Madden

Todd Haynes hasn’t written one of his own films since 2007’s I’m Not There, a biopic that refuses to fit neatly into that genre (making it a perfect fit for its subject).

The director’s collaboration with other writers has been both sublime (Carol) and spotty (Wonderstruck), the content sometimes feeling as if it simply is a mismatch for his own often gorgeously subversive vision.

So, yes, it’s a bit of a shock to witness the filmmaker who depicted Karen Carpenter’s battle with anorexia via Barbie dolls (Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story) tackle the blue collar true story of a corporate defense attorney who grows a conscience and hits DuPont Chemical where it hurts the most.

Shooting again in southern and central Ohio, Haynes turns in the buttery glamour of Carol for a grimmer image of America.

Dark Waters sees Mark Ruffalo as Robert Bilott, a good guy who also happens to be a corporate lawyer. I guess he’s proof those two concepts need not be mutually exclusive.

A keep-your-head-down kind of colleague, Bilott is confronted at work by a friend of his grandmother back home, a curmudgeonly West Virgina farmer (Bill Camp) who is offering VHS proof that his cows are being poisoned.

The corporate lawyer in Bilott wants to ignore this problem. The salt-of-the-earth Midwesterner in him cannot.

Few actors play the scrupulous good guy as reliably or believably as Ruffalo, who leads the film with a quiet, fragile dignity.

Anne Hathaway co-stars as Bilott’s conflicted wife Sarah. It’s a small and somewhat thankless role for the Oscar winner, but she gives it some meat and, better still, a much needed edge that strengthens the film.

She’s not alone. William Jackson Harper (Midsommar) continues to prove that he’s really good at playing a dick. Meanwhile, veteran “that guy” Camp offers a perfectly off-putting, guttural performance. A number of other sharp turns in small roles, including those by Tim Robbins, Bill Pullman, Mare Winningham and Victor Garber, help Haynes shade and shadow what could easily have become a paint-by-numbers eco-terror biopic.

He can’t entirely break free, though, and Dark Waters in the end—however stirring, informative and timely the tale—feels far too safe to be a Todd Haynes film.

Written by maddwolf

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