Robert Bilott was minding his own business in an important top-attorney meeting at a Cincinnati law firm one fateful day in 1998 when he’s informed that there’s a visitor in the lobby who won’t leave without a face-to-face.
Lives change when he takes that carton of videotapes(!) from West Virginia farmer Wilbur Tennant, who’s chronicled the demise of his herd of cows.
Tennant knows Bilott’s grandma. The lawyer remembers riding a horse on that land while growing up. He visits.
The horror is real.
What Bilott does about it is the heart and soul of Dark Waters, directed by Todd Haynes from a screenplay by Mario Correa and Matthew Michael Carnahan. The whole excruciatingly painful truth was born from a New York Times 2016 investigative piece headlined The Lawyer Who Became Dupont’s Worst Nightmare.
But, oh, what that massive chemical company did to the water and ground in that little West Virginia town for 50 years before Bilott grabbed onto the reins of this one farmer’s discovery and stubborn tenacacity and refused to let go.
It’s ugly in many, many ways, this tale of corporate greed and cover-up and greater America’s tendencies to grab at obvious comforts and rail against those who stand up against the crowd.
Mark Ruffalo truly shines as the lawyer who angers his firm, then his family, and then people who believed in his quest as the big, bad wolf showed just how sharp its teeth could be.
Anne Hathaway as his concerned wife and Tim Robbins as his equally connected boss both stand out; Bill Camp will make you cheer as the suffering farmer.
The payoff is satisfying, indeed, but you can’t forget what the good people had to go through to get there.
Central New Yorkers can view Dark Waters as part of the Monday Night Movie series at 6 p.m. June 1 at the Liverpool Public Library.