● (Release Info London schedule; February 28th, 2020, Empire, 5-6, Leicester Square, London WC2H 7NA, United Kingdom, 11:20 · 14:20 · 17:20 · 20:20)
● (Release Info London schedule; February 28th, 2020, Picturehouse Central, Piccadilly Circus, Corner of Great Windmill Street and, Shaftesbury Ave, London W1D 7DH, United Kingdom, 15:20 · 18:30 · 21:25)
"Dark Waters" tells the shocking and heroic story of Rob Bilott (Mark Ruffalo), an attorney who risks his career and family to uncover a dark secret hidden by one of the world’s largest corporations and to bring justice to a community dangerously exposed for decades to deadly chemicals. Corporate environmental defense attorney Rob Billot has just made partner at his prestigious Cincinnati law firm in large part due to his work defending 'Big Chem' companies. He finds himself conflicted after he’s contacted by Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp) and his brother Jim (Jim Azelvandre) ,two 'West Virginia' farmers, who believe that the local 'DuPont' plant is dumping toxic waste in the area landfill that is destroying their fields and killing their cattle. Hoping to learn the truth about just what's happening, Bilott, with help from his supervising partner in the firm, Tom Terp (Tim Robbins), files a complaint that marks the beginning of an epic 15-year fight; one that will not only test his relationship with his wife, Sarah (Anne Hathaway) but also his reputation, his health and his livelihood.
Based on 'The New York Times Magazine' article, 'The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare', by Nathaniel Rich, "Dark Waters" chronicles the one-man crusade that sought justice for a community exposed for decades to toxins in it's own backyard. Defense attorney Rob Bilott has just made partner at his prestigious Cincinnati firm in large part due to his work defending some of the biggest names in 'Big Chem'. When two small-town 'West Virginia' farmers ask for his help investigating the local chemical plant for purportedly killing their livestock, he balks, explaining that he represents chemical companies, not plaintiffs. Yet, something about their story stays with Rob, especially when he realizes one of his fondest summers as a boy was spent at a neighboring farm. During a drive to the area, Rob’s observations don’t quite align with his memories; there's something beneath the surface of this corner of 'Hill Country'. He also realizes that nearly everyone in the community owes much to the local chemical plant in Parkersburg, operated by 'DuPont'. 'The Tennants' believe that whatever 'DuPont' is dumping in their landfill is polluting their creek and has wiped out their herd of nearly 200 cattle. Still, many of their neighbors cling to the idea that the company continues to look out for them, as it has seemingly done for years. Supported by his supervising partner in the firm, Tom Terp, Bilott uses his intimate understanding of how chemical companies work. He files a complaint, undertaking a targeted suit that will uncover just what's happening in Parkersburg. Thousands of personnel hours and years later, Bilott finds that his obsession to ferret out the truth has not only jeopardized his family, particularly his relationship with his wife, Sarah but also his reputation, his health and his livelihood. Just how much is he, and by association, those around him, prepared to lose to bring the truth to light? What's the price for justice? "Dark Waters" tells the unbelievable 'David vs. Goliath' story of an attorney with unwavering conviction who fought for decades to obtain justice for a community victimized by a corporation driven by greed.
It all begins on January 6th, 2016, when 'The New York Times Magazine' published Nathaniel Rich’s riveting chronicle of the work of Cincinnati attorney Rob Bilott. Employed at the law firm of 'Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP', Bilott becomes an unlikely crusader who bravely uncovered the dangers of a chemical that had been contaminating for years; and to punish one corporate giant responsible for marketing it's uses. 'The Tennants', a family who had farmed the same sprawling property for generations, begin losing their cattle in startling ways. The animals, once docile like pets, turned ugly and aggressive. Lesions covered their hides, their eyes are rimmed with red, white slime dripped from their mouths, their teeth blackened. When one black calf died, it's eye is electric blue. Convinced that the cause is toxic runoff from the nearby 'Dry Run Landfill', where 'The Washington Works' factory, owned by 'DuPont', disposed of it's waste, Wilbur Tennant sought answers for years to no avail. Desperate, he finally turns to Bilott, who had spent time as a child near 'The Tennants' farm in 'Parkersburg, West Virginia'. Bilott helps figure out what should be going into the landfill and look at the permits; he finds out what chemicals are actually going in and what might be exceeding their limits. After nearly a year, Bilott discoverers just what they're dealing with; an unregulated chemical that didn’t fit into that word. The substance in question is perfluorooctanoic acid or 'PFOA', which dates to 1951, almost two decades before 'The Environmental Protection Agency' was established in 1970. Unfortunately, a lot of the federal rules and statutes that started coming out in the 1970s were primarily focused on new chemicals, things that were being produced and generated after that point in time. By 1990, the company had dumped 7,100 tons of 'PFOA' sludge into 'Dry Run Landfill'. From that point on, Bilott makes it his mission to secure justice not just for 'The Tennants', but also for anyone who had been exposed to 'PFOA; or forever chemicals as they’re called, since they don’t break down and stay in the subject’s system.
In "Dark Waters" it's all anchored in the character of Rob Bilott, the unlikely hero par excellence, whose presumptions about corporate practices are turned on their head in his discoveries about 'DuPont". Mistrustful, unpartisan and constitutionally guarded by nature, Rob Bilott, like most classic whistleblowers, is already a solitary figure when the story begins. He’s a man caught between two worlds; he has roots in small-town 'West Virginia', where he spent portions of his childhood, but he’s also an attorney at one of Cincinnati’s most high-profile corporate law films charged with defending clients from lawsuits, not filing suits against them. He's living in a class that's's above the one he grew up in, and there are class clashes going on within his family. All of this makes for a balancing act; he's straddling this echelon of lawyers who are all really well-bred and well-schooled, and he's not really a part of that. And then there’s this schism of plaintiff/defense attorney. All these dichotomies is why Rob Bilott is able to bring down one of the biggest corporations in the world. The more you can layer in those complexities, just the better story it's, and the greater achievement it's when our hero does what he set out to do. At the outset, Rob really believes that corporations are people and in the concept of their self-governance. He reasons that this must be some simple oversight. What ends up happening is he uncovers this contamination and cover-up, perpetrated by 'DuPont' and spanning 40 years.
Wilbur Tennant is tough. Even when Rob has completely put his job and reputation and family and mental health on the line to take on this case, Wilbur isn't content to just get a settlement from 'DuPont'. He wants the truth to get out. He wants this to be known to the world. Wilbur has a very simple life and a very strong moral understanding and balance of what’s right and what’s wrong. He’s passionate and fiery. There’s a simplicity to that; it’s foundational to his and the overall story. He has a natural human reaction to being lied to, to being wronged. His life has been completely upended, if not destroyed, by the corruption of this company. He sees this wrong done not just to him, but an entire community and the natural world. His only response is to take on this entity more powerful than himself. And true to form, the events that unfold only further that isolation. That this isolation, this stigma, is mirrored in the story’s precipitating force, Wilbur Tennant, and can be seen spreading across the network of interdependent players, crossing class differences, afflicting public life, family life, church life in it's wake, describes it’s unique insidious contagion. Despite these bonds, taking on powerful interests will shrink your world and rattle your faculties. Sarah is a very specific. She understands that her husband’s passion and commitment to this case is important to support, but it takes a great toll on the family. Sarah is vivacious, powerful. She has so much strength, and she’s full of contradictions. You can’t tell everything about her just by one aspect of her.
Rob finds an unexpected source of support for his quest in his supervising partner at 'Taft Stettinius & Hollister, LLP', Tom Terp. Although the two weren’t necessarily close friends, Terp admired Bilott’s work ethic, and his initial reluctance over Bilott taking 'The Tennants’ case gave way when he was presented with evidence of wrong-doing. As Rob’s boss, he conveys what’s at stake for Rob. This is nothing less than his standing as a partner. He also very subtly provides a moral compass when he permits Rob to take on the case. You get the sense that what’s central for 'Taft' is the law. The law needs to be respected, and if that starts to get messed with, as lawyers, even corporate defense attorneys, they’re not going to stand for it. So, in very economical strokes, Tom represents those two possibly opposing forces. Tom Terp is the exception to the rule in corporate culture, which tends to protect itself. People don’t usually cross lines, generally. They tend to remain silent or willfully ignorant of information that might challenge their worldview and their power structure. Tom is someone that dared to go against that. He isn't a knight in shining armor. He's a man faced with an illegality that was undeniable, and he chose to go against his company’s culture to hold 'DuPont' accountable, not an easy thing to do.
Phil Donnelly (Victor Garber) is a company man, in thrall to his own conviction. Other attorneys enter the picture, including plaintiff’s attorney Harry Deitzler (Bill Pullman). Harry is a bit brash, he’s a big personality. But he's a strategist with tactics. Harry is a version of an ambulance chaser, personal injury lawyer. Harry had been on 'The Parkersburg City Council' for 12 years. He has the ability to bring people together from all sides; that makes him a perfect candidate to be on the legal team. Darlene Kiger (Mare Winningham) served as lead plaintiffs in a 2001 class-action lawsuit against 'DuPont' over dangerously high levels of 'PFOA', also known as 'C8', in 'The Parkersburg' region’s drinking water supplies. She brings her grounded wisdom, warmth and gravitas to the character. She's very brave, to take this stand amidst gossip, stares and comments, in a community indebted to 'DuPont'. James (William Jackson Harper) is a junior associate at Bilott’s firm who believes the attorney’s work should cease. He's someone trying to climb the ladder in this corporate defense world that's now suddenly in ethically murky waters, we’re looking to prosecute the very people we serve. James role is to actually push to shut the case down. He thinks it’s a dangerous violation of their ethics to pursue this. It becomes divisive for the character, and for some others within the firm.
This is the late ’90s, early 2000s. It’s still a really ambiguous time period that we all kind of remember but have forgotten at the same time. Who had what technology, like which cellphones? Televisions? What would be on desks in lawyers’ offices? It’s also interesting because 'Taft', as with other big firms, were beginning to brand themselves, advertising for legal services. So even they're switching tradition. There’s a lens we view society through, which picks up people’s differences within class structures, but we want to concentrate on the humanity that runs through everyone. We’ve been watching the environmental mandates for water, air, endangered species, and of course climate change be systematically unraveled, and so everything is at stake right now. The ultimate message is that we need each other. No one else is going to do it for us. No one else is going to make the world a better place. It's us together. And this story about water transcends all political divides, ideological beliefs, sex, race, religion. The film tells a gripping story based on the explosive exposé that uncovered an urgent public health crisis and corruption at the highest levels. We all know inherently how important it's for us to have clean water, and it's by framing these massive problems in these kinds of ways that we will see real positive change in the world.
It’s a tremendous opportunity to be able to make people understand the nature and extent of this public health threat. But not only that; how does something like this happen in 'The United States'? In what we should be thinking of as the most sophisticated country on earth, how could a massive worldwide contamination problem like this not only occur, but originate here in 'The United States'? This film can convey to people in an understandable way that not only is this happening, but how it happens. Like most people we're astonished and outraged by the story Rob Bilott, the tenacious corporate defense attorney, unwittingly uncovers; the story of 'DuPont' and 'Teflon'. It clearly describes a recent, ongoing saga of corporate abuse with searing cultural and political relevance. Certainly, abuses of power, threats and cover-up, whether corporate, industrial or governmental, will be revealed. In fact they're the narrative expectation, often looming offscreen in advance of the stories. But the whistleblower film’s true focus is on the little guy, his process, and the peril, psychic, emotional, if not mortal, faced by that individual who stands up to the truth. This specificity of time and place can be feel in a visual language in which a cool observational style links the contrasting locations in an attempt to underscore their interdependence. What emerges is a complex, at times contradictory American landscape, though one in which the lines of economic power are clearly drawn; even as they're confronted with their limits. It's often as a result of these contradictions, or improbabilities, that 'The Wilbur Tennant Case' and the historic class action that followed could ever have been waged.
The unlikelihood of a corporate defense attorney working for the chemical industry reversing his sites and taking on a corporate behemoth like 'DuPont' is precisely what provided Rob with the kind of time and resources required to succeed. So without the medical monitoring ruling in 'West Virginia', or the dual-state strategy linking Ohio law with 'West Virginia', it’s hard to imagine any of these remarkable outcomes; or the world ever learning about the dangers of forever chemicals like 'PFOA', lurking in every corner of our lives. Rather than concluding with the rewards of a win, it depicts the act of fighting as on ongoing condition, a primer for living imperfectly between knowledge and despair. In "Dark Waters", what begins as a regional and national contamination of air and water systems results in a global contamination of human bloodstreams, in effect, materializing our interconnectivity as residents of the planet, if not the unelected victims of capitalist and ideological systems. But in the massiveness of this manmade catastrophe we're invariably linked, and our knowledge and awareness are what connect us to one another, in what's both an unending struggle for justice and a fight for our lives.