Through his career, Todd Haynes has presented stories such as the trials of a married mother in Far from Heaven, depictions of random personas of Bob Dylan in I’m Not There and lesbianism in 1950s New York with Carol, crafting a deserved reputation in the industry.
His latest project Dark Waters sees him take on the true-life story of a defence attorney whose moral conscience guides him to take on a chemical company accused of dumping chemicals and pursuing profit at the expense of the health and welfare of ordinary citizens. 
Mark Ruffalo portrays Robert Billet who works for an Ohio-based law firm whose life changes when he is approached by a West Virginia farmer (Bill Camp) who believes that the deaths of his cows are linked to supposed chemical spills and seeks justice to the Dupont corporation he firmly holds responsible.
What appears to be a favour escalates in a quest that stretches from 1998 to 2015, with Billet staking his professional career, his marriage and even his health as he strives to uncover evidence of the powerful company’s ruthless activity for the sake of those affected.
Ruffalo delivers a good performance as ever in a role which see him progress from almost being proud to defend such corporations to becoming the moral crusader motivated by the fears that his own family could be affected by the company’s behaviour. He also has decent support from Anne Hathaway as his long-suffering devout Christian wife who often finds herself torn regarding the support of his career and her status as a wife with his children.

Haynes usually makes good films but with this, his attempt to tell a true life story fails to offer anything new. At times, the film enters into conventional methods, presenting supporting characters who encounter resentment from fellow citizens and the threat of life even indicated. These traits end up falling flat because it practically copies other films and is too obvious in its attempts to act as a thriller. 
Another problem is the film’s emphasis on suggesting the threat of life towards Billet’s character as demonstrated in a scene where he hesitates in turning the ignition of his car, something cliched and shown recently in a scene in The Irishman. 
Take Sidney Lumet’s The Verdict, a film that worked so well because the film started as a drama and remained a drama within its David vs Goliath narrative. With Dark Waters, what we get is a drama that tries once too often tries to be a thriller, instead of just retaining focus on the drama aspect. 
The film seems a cliché at times, not just with its lead actor’s character arc but also the pitfalls that are endured pursuing the case, with setbacks and long-gestating periods of waiting depicted. It is also guilty of telling us something we already suspect having Billet start on friendly terms with the corporation’s lawyer he’s acquainted with (Victor Garber) who officially becomes his nemesis at an awkward dinner once facts are uncovered, leaving us void of any surprise. 
It works on some levels with scenes depicting the case testing Billet to the limit, such as when he sifts through literally boxes of documents and his conversation with his boss (Tim Robbins) where he is informed his prolonged pursuit will result in another pay cut. It does modestly well at paying tribute to the lawyer who could have carried on what he was doing but put his heart first in spite of the challenges would do. 
Haynes seems to be in a position where the talent he displayed in the 2000s with Far from Heaven and I’m Not There appears to be waning somewhat. One has to argue if he was the right director for this project and if he would have benefitted from a different project entirely. There are some moments which work but all it does is make us wonder when something memorable and unique is going to happen, which it doesn’t, made all the more unfortunate given the talent on display.

Published by thenorthwalescritic

Hello, film fans. There is room for one more critic with a difference. For anyone looking at what are the best films out there, whether to watch in cinema, streamed, DVD, TV, your choice where, I will write several film reviews each month. I will be writing these from several days to up to several weeks after their initial release because after all, just because the film comes out on a weekend, doesn't mean its only going to be seen that weekend. This will be so it won't be lost amongst the avalanche of reviews that come out on the same day. As well, there will be articles about the current climate of cinema, recommendations of some obscure movies and maybe the odd mention of some films not quite worthy of their reputation. My opinion, your decision to enter.

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