Movie review: Dark Waters (2019)

Hoosick Falls, NY water used for drinking is contaminated with PFOA

dark watersMy wife and I went to see Dark Waters at the Spectrum Theatre in mid-December. As we came home, we realized we were both really ticked off. But it wasn’t a flaw in the movie. Rather, it was too damn effective.

Robert Bilott (Mark Ruffalo) is a defense attorney for large corporations who just made partner at the firm. A neighbor of his grandmother’s, a West Virginia farmer named Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp) shows up at Bilott’s office. Wilbur thinks something untoward is killing his cattle.

Negotiating with the managing partner Tom Terp (Tim Robbins), Robert decides to take a quick look see at the case. Soon, he’s conversing with duPont bigwig Phil Donnelly (Victor Garber). Donnelly buries Bilott in discovery, and other stalling tactics. Eventually, this process becomes an environmental lawsuit against the major chemical company that was creating PFAS chemicals that pollute the water and much more.

Robert’s wife Sarah (Anne Hathaway), a lawyer who retired to raise the family, tries to be supportive, but the cost in Robert’s time and their lifestyle begins taking its toll.

This is a very steady, credible film. In some ways, it reminded me of the 2015 movie Spotlight, in which Boston Globe reporters were investigated alleged sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church. No one wanted to believe that narrative either.

In Dark Waters, one of the young women who was getting her blood tested said, “But you won’t find anything . DuPont is good people.”

A better example might be The Firm, the movie based on the John Grisham novel, or maybe a low-key Erin Brockovich. Dark Waters is engaging and informative about corporate irresponsibility that affected millions of lives.

PFAS

When my wife and I got home that very night, we saw on NBC News a story about PFAS chemicals in the drinking water of a seemingly well-to-do Philadelphia suburb. I didn’t find that specific report, but note that PFAS chemicals have contaminated 17 sites in Pennsylvania. See also the NATIONAL map.

It’s a problem in my neck of the woods. The water depended upon by the people of Hoosick Falls, New York, for drinking and cooking is contaminated with PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid). PFOA is a subset of PFAS, one those C8 “forever” substances.

As the farmer Wilbur noted, you can’t count on industry or the government to protect us. We have to count on ourselves.