Watershed Down

‘Dark Waters’: Mark Ruffalo Vs. The Man

I saw the Dark Waters movie. Mark Ruffalo plays a Christ-like lawyer in Cincinnati who works for corporations but ends up defending an entire West Virginia town against an evil chemical conglomerate that’s poisoning its water. The movie is based on an article in the New York Times Magazine, and it unfolds like a solid piece of investigative journalism. Somehow it manages the neat trick of explaining to an ordinary audience the chemistry behind the making of Teflon, and the political machinations behind keeping sinister companies like DuPont out of trouble with the government. There are numerous scenes of guys sitting around a conference table, intercut with disgusting shots of suppurating tumors. Yet somehow Dark Waters manages to remain watchable, though always the opposite of fun.

DARK WATERS ★★★★(4/5 stars)
Directed by: Todd Haynes
Written by: Matthew Michael Carnahan, Mario Correa
Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, Bill Pullman
Running time: 126 min


The main character has an Erin Brockovich-like mission, but instead of sexy Julia Roberts, it’s just Mark Ruffalo in a bad haircut and frumpy suits. Director Todd Haynes uses a muted color palette, lots of deep greens and blues and grays, and mostly keeps the film stock grainy. In doing so, he makes Dark Waters resemble industrial thrillers from the 80s, like Silkwood. This is especially odd and surprising, because Haynes first made a splash as an avatar of the “New Queer Cinema”. His first noticeable film depicted the tragedy of Karen Carpenter using Barbie dolls. He made Velvet Goldmine, basically about a journalist having sex with Iggy Pop. His last film to garner a lot of attention, Carol, was a lesbian love story based on a Patricia Highsmith novel. Dark Waters contains no sex, and no skin. It is wholesome and outraged.

Ruffalo delivers a low-key performance perfectly calibrated for an Oscar nomination. He never steals focus from the film’s main character, the boxes of evidence implicating the DuPont corporation in a monstrous crime. As his wife, Anne Hathaway gives several speeches about the sacrifices wives have to make while their husbands give speeches. She wears several wigs because the movie spans two decades. But Dark Waters does pass the Bechdel test because she has a conversation with Mare Winningham about tumors. Tim Robbins appears as Ruffalo’s boss to give a couple of righteous liberal diatribes and possibly rack up an Oscar nomination of his own. The guy who plays Chidi on The Good Place is also in this, as is Victor Garber, for all those Victor Garber completists out there. Bill Pullman shows up in the third act as a gravelly West Virginia D.A. and steals a couple of scenes.

I saw Dark Waters on opening night in Austin. The theater was packed, and the audience broke out in applause several times during important speeches. But Austin audiences are an easy lay. Even so, the movie’s final 45 minutes really drag and there were a couple of big dudes snoring in my row by the time it was all over. Dark Waters is a quiet film, intelligently presented and professionally crafted. In other words, it’s Oscar season. The holidays are upon us. DuPont is evil. Time for a well-intentioned nap.

This concludes my review of the Dark Waters movie.

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Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of 12 semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer for both film and television, Neal has written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

One thought on “Watershed Down

  • December 6, 2019 at 12:27 pm

    Bill Camp stole every scene he was in.


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