‘Todd Haynes has a new movie coming out,’ a friend of mine said to me about a month ago, and of course, I got excited. i do not love everything he has ever done, but more often than not, his films are interesting, and they all have very specific moods. Then I realized the film he directed was ‘Dark Waters,’ a movie whose trailer I had seen a couple of times already. My first thought was that it didn’t look like a Todd Haynes film. And after seeing the film, I surmise that it is, and it isn’t. ‘Dark Waters’ is a conventional thriller, and it had a specific thing to say, and it says it succinctly. It tells of a simple story, of how a large chemical company, int his case, Dupont, knowingly unleashed a chemical to the public – perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) – via its products, specifically teflon, which is used in cooking pans and carpeting, among other things. Even as they discover its dangerous effects on people, they concealed this information to the public, and did harm to their employees. Mark Ruffalo (who also produced this) plays Robert Billott, who single-handedly fights the corporation, seeking justice.
The film has marvelous pacing – two minutes into the movie and you are right in the middle of the story. The screenplay moves fast, and there are a lot of scenes that for me were difficult to watch. Ruffalo plays the character as a dignified hero – no big scenes, no monologues that will catch the Academy’s eye – and the result is muted, but not less effective. Poor bewigged Anne Hathaway is treated like decoration here, but in the handful of scenes she is in, she shines. All in all, I was all in from the start of the film, and didn’t let go until the very end. As a thriller, this is a fantastic watch. As a film, it skews on the subtle side, and for some, that may not be enough.