What Critics Are Saying About Dark Waters

Todd Haynes' film with Mark Ruffalo shines in its focus on the facts
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 6, 2019 9:44 AM CST

Robert Bilott's job is to defend chemical companies—which means there's a lot on the line when the lawyer discovers DuPont has been poisoning folks in Todd Haynes' Dark Waters, based on the true story told in Nathaniel Rich's 2016 feature in New York Times Magazine. Critics are generally moved, giving the film starring Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, and Tim Robbins a 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. What they're saying:

  • "If you like Erin Brockovich, you'll probably like this too, although Ruffalo's schlubby crusader … doesn't have quite the same working-class pizazz that Julia Roberts brought to that 2000 role," writes Michael O'Sullivan at the Washington Post. Actually, the entire film is "decidedly unflashy"—to its benefit, writes O'Sullivan. "Like Bilott himself, it gets the job done, not by showboating, but by laying out the facts."
  • "The brilliance of Dark Waters is that it is able to lay out the case against DuPont without getting too wonky," writes G. Allen Johnson at the San Francisco Chronicle. Indeed, a montage explaining the chemical compound perfluorooctanoic acid and DuPont's use of it as a main ingredient in Teflon "is a master class in filmmaking" and "among the greatest montages I have seen," he writes, adding the film has the potential to inspire a new generation of activists.

  • Other critics found an issue, though. The "time-hopping" film is "exceedingly well executed and technically impeccable," writes Manohla Dargis at the New York Times. But though convention works "in its narrative structure and approach," it doesn't in Hathaway's role as Bilott's wife. "Every time Bilott goes home it feels like a waste of valuable storytelling and investigative time, which only plays into the noxious idea that men do the important work in the world while women … impatiently tap their feet."
  • "The relatively familiar supportive-helpmeet role Hathaway plays … feels like a step back for both actress and director," who "has always shown a unique attunement to his female characters," writes Dana Stevens at Slate. But Ruffalo fares better. "A natural piece of casting for the unglamorously righteous Bilott," he "convinces us of the truth of Bilott's passion without turning him into a saint," writes Stevens.
(More movie review stories.)

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