Dark Waters

Review by Niamh Muldowney

A banana peel will take 2-5 weeks to decompose. A cardboard box will take around 3 months to decompose. Plastic Bottles can decompose between 500-1000 years. But PFOA cannot decompose naturally. And you probably have no idea what that is. 

Mark Ruffalo stars as Rob Bilott in Dark Waters.

Mark Ruffalo’s latest film Dark Waters tells the story of Rob Bilott, a lawyer who’s spent more than 20 years fighting the DuPont company’s illegal dumping and unsafe practices regarding PFOA. PFOA is one of the unregulated ‘forever chemicals’ that can exist indefinitely in the environment and has been linked with kidney cancer, testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, and preeclampsia. It is found in stain resistant carpets, Teflon pans, and even tap water. It is also currently in the blood of 99% of Americans. Dark Waters works twofold as a film, both as a warning of the dangers of forever chemicals and as a thrilling and terrifying David and Goliath story both against this invisible, indestructible threat, and the corporations that create them. 

The didactic nature of the film can be overbearing, with the characters literally sitting down and discussing the science behind PFOA (complete with drawn out diagrams at times!). However, due to the topic, this information is necessary and adds to the pervasive sense of dread throughout the film. This atmosphere is handled expertly, with the entire cinema hanging on a knife’s edge during phone calls and courtroom scenes. In fact, I recall a moment halfway through the film when a shiver went down my spine: I began to think about how many Teflon pans I had in my kitchen and how quickly I could get rid of them. In short, regarding selling the danger of PFOA, the film just works.

This atmosphere is handled expertly, with the entire cinema hanging on a knife’s edge during phone calls and courtroom scenes.

However, I struggle on whether I actually liked the film. As the genre of David vs Goliath films go, Erin Brockovich, Spotlight, and The Big Short all work better. Dark Waters attempts to make interesting shot choices at points, but it is clear the emphasis is not on this aspect of the film. Ultimately it is the (at times unbelievable, but absolutely) true story that carries the film.

Dark Waters and its promotion does an incredible job at showcasing an issue close to Ruffalo’s heart. You will feel a palpable fear of what lies unseen, undetected and unregulated in the deep dark waters and be convinced to join the fight against forever chemicals. But the line between didacticism and narrative is drawn thin, and holds me back from loving Dark Waters completely. 

Dark Waters is now screening in cinemas across Ireland.

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