Sue the Du
What raises stakes against lawyer Rob Bilott in a case against DuPont isn’t a roomful of lawyers or stacks of paperwork. They don’t help, but it’s the community aspect most at fault. Driving through a West Virginia town early in Dark Waters, Bilott (Mark Ruffalo) passes a school. DuPont paid for it. A street is named after DuPont. The garbage cans on that street? Slapped with a DuPont logo.
To take this case, Bilott must stand against a major corporation; films use the David/Goliath stories often. For Dark Waters though, this is about fighting against a company seen as an important corporate citizen, one who supplies goods as much as middle class jobs. Without DuPont, the town shuts down. Even when it’s clear the employees were knowingly poisoned, they resent the high dollar lawyer. Jobs, specifically those offered by DuPont, represent a livelihood that isn’t worth losing.
That’s reason enough for Dark Waters to exist in the now, not even considering Bilott turned this case into a career, standing for those impacted by reckless behavior. Jobs moved overseas; DuPont kept them Stateside. Through the decades, factory labor became endangered in the US. The will to keep that job sector is so resolute, water contamination becomes a small side effect to the American way of life.
… Dark Waters deserves an audience
… Dark Waters deserves an audience
Thus, Bilott becomes a public villain. So too does the aging farmer who first brought this issue to attention. Dark Water doesn’t delve into media spin (DuPont’s Phil Donnelly (Victor Garber) doesn’t refute claims in a press conference) rather keeps things on a believable, human level.
Mistakes happen in the script. Anne Hathaway can do nothing as Bilott’s wife, staying at home with the kids, arguing over money and the time spent away from home. It’s every sports movie wife cliché brought into the lawyer drama, and embarrassing. Scenes of paranoia and growing stress also come from a genre template. But a few of those scenes enhance instead of detract from the narrative.
One cliché Dark Waters makes use of it does so with remarkable purpose. After the final frame, the screen turns black. Text appears, providing updates on the case. Dark Waters offers a statistic so startling that even after the discussions of cancers, deformities, and deaths prior, one takes precedence over all. It’s not money (if anything, DuPont’s payouts to date amount to pocket change), but the sheer impact their negligence caused to this planet. That’s why Bilott fights, and why Dark Waters deserves an audience.
Taking place over two decades, the digital cinematography at the source aims for consistency. That means artificial grain, which lately, is becoming an issue. Ford v Ferrari is one example of a disc unable to cope, and now Dark Waters. Even with ample disc space allotted, the output looks entirely artificial. The filter leaves chunky “grain,” looking more processed than organically added. It’s messy and loosely resolved, damaging fidelity.
Under that, texture pops out. Marginal facial definition appears in close-ups, while medium shots suffer. Exteriors provide the best imagery, not surprisingly the lightest in terms of grain, sharpening cities during fantastic wide shots. To be clear, this isn’t a case where grain itself is the issue – that’s a reasonable choice between director and DP – but how Universal’s Blu-ray resolves it.
Furthering the digital aesthetic, color grading casts scenes in blue and yellows. Nothing else escapes. Primaries died in post-production, certainly moody, if unappealing. That said, it’s not the disc causing issues; this is accurate to the design. Same goes for flat contrast, impacted by drained white balance, saved slightly by notable black levels.
Given DTS-HD to play with, Dark Waters uses the 5.1 soundstage for ambiance. Mostly, this amounts to small touches. Insects chirp when visiting a farm. City centers come alive, as do parties. A tense parking garage scene enhances an echo to induce tension. That’s a success.
Being dialog driven, bass doesn’t seem key, although the score enjoys playing available range. In a health-related moment though, the LFE swells to an extreme, blotting out audio elsewhere (by design) for an incredible, bold output.
Three featurettes, around fourteen minutes total. Bummer. The Real People sounds interesting, but merely tells of cameos in the movie rather than focus on their stories. Don’t bother with the other two EPKs.
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Dark Waters doesn’t steer itself away from lawyer movie cliches, yet the central story is one of American complacency, security, and indifference.
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