Review: Subdued 'Dark Waters' seeks truth in face of injustice

Mark Ruffalo stars in drama that trades flash for substance

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

Mark Ruffalo is a different kind of Avenger in "Dark Waters," a stark whistleblower drama in which he plays a lawyer who takes on DuPont for dumping chemicals into the water supply in a small West Virginia city. 

Todd Haynes directs this fact-based legal procedural with no-frills efficiency. Want flash? Look elsewhere. "Dark Waters" forgoes the Hollywood treatment for a story that keeps its head down and prefers a respectful handshake over celebratory fireworks.   

Bill Camp and Mark Ruffalo in "Dark Waters."

Ruffalo is Robert Bilott, a Cincinnati lawyer who defends chemical companies, including DuPont. He flips after he's visited by Wilbur Tennant (the excellent Bill Camp), a farmer from West Virginia, who tracks down Bilott after he suspects the reason he's lost nearly 200 cows on his farm is because the water supply has been tainted.  

After a visit to Tennant's farm, Bilott is faced with a crisis of conscience and decides to take on DuPont. It doesn't win him any fans in the West Virginia city where DuPont is the biggest employer, and it causes him problems at home, where his wife, Sarah (Anne Hathaway) is stuck raising the kids while he pores through tens of thousands of documents of discovery evidence. 

"Dark Waters," which is based on a New York Times article, is the kind of movie that is invested in that leg work. It's a David and Goliath story with a central figure who knows what's right and keeps chipping away, bit by bit, until he gets to the truth. He's not driven by money or ego but by a sense of justice, which is the same force guiding "Dark Waters." It's in it for the fight. 

'Dark Waters'


Rated PG-13: for thematic content, some disturbing images and strong language

Running time: 126 minutes