‘Dark Waters’ takes on corporate greed


Legal thriller ‘Dark Waters’ poster. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Dark Waters is a legal thriller that came out late last year based on a true story about a corporate defence attorney who risks his career and potentially even his life when he turns into an environmental activist who fights for the little guy who’s been grossly aggrieved by one of his law firm’s biggest corporate clients, DuPont Chemical.

Mark Ruffalo may be best known among Avenger fans as the Hulk. They might be doubtful how he could play a big-time corporate lawyer. But in a way, Ruffalo’s character in Dark Waters, Rob Bilott is also angered by the injustice he’s compelled to see when a childhood neighbour from West Virginia comes looking for him to show him why the farmer needs Bilott’s help. And like the Hulk, he takes on the ‘impossible’ tasks of fighting the injustice by defending the little guy who’s been virtually bankrupted by DuPont’s careless poisoning of farmer’s herd of 190 cows.

Born and raised in the backwaters of West Virginia, Bilott had made his family and neighbours proud of his success as a legal defender of rich and powerful corporations like DuPont. But once he’d been shown to way DuPont had knowingly released poisonous chemicals into the groundwater systems around their factories, he (like Hulk) got really mad.

His wife Sarah (played with surprising sensitivity and maturity by Anne Hathaway) is initially opposed to what quickly becomes her husband’s obsession, seeking environmental and social justice for the humble farmer (played brilliantly by Bill Camp).

But in spite of her fears, seeing her husband’s life threatened as he gets closer to unearthing the truth about DuPont’s criminal role in destroyed a whole water system and livelihood for an entire community, she stands by him.

Even his law firm sticks with him, despite his struggle to obtain justice for his childhood friend and neighbour taking several years to achieve.

The film might sound rather dry and dull, especially as Bilott takes years reading through the many lawsuits against DuPont that the corporate giant invariably overturned (since they had the means to hire the sharpest lawyers that money could buy).

But Dark Waters is real David and Goliath-like thriller based on Bilott’s true story, which was written up in 2016 as a New York Times magazine piece by Nathaniel Rich and called ‘The Lawyer who became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare.’

In real life, Ruffalo is the one who really championed this film. He first read the story in the New York Times and felt passionate about running with it as far as he could take it.

He then took it to the film’s future director, the independent American filmmaker Todd Haynes, whom he persuaded to direct.

Ruffalo and Haynes then got Mario Correa and Matthew Michael Carnahan to write the screenplay which Ruffalo not only starred in as Rob Bilott but also co-produced with Christine Vachon of Killer Films.

So while Ruffalo may play a superhero comic book character in Marvel’s Avengers, he’s also a human superhero in real life.