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Dark Waters: A compelling film with a scary truth

Dark Waters, a film that captures the brilliance of Todd Hayne’s talent in the form of a true story, exceptional acting and powerful storytelling. A story that makes you critically question everything in your life, from the foods you eat to the products you use, you walk away from this film for the better. Here’s my breakdown on what it’s about and why you should watch it.


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Based off the New York Times article, The Lawyer who became DuPont’s worst nightmare by Nathaniel Rich and released in 2019, Dark Waters is the true story of lawyer Rob Bilott’s decades long legal battle with chemical manufacturing company DuPont.

Rob Bilott (played by Mark Ruffalo) is a corporate defence lawyer who defends big chemical corporations such as DuPont. In 1998, recently welcomed as a partner at the law firm, Taft Stettinius and Hollister, Rob receives a visit from a farmer (Wilbur Tennant played by Bill Camp) from Parkersburg, West Virginia. The farmer claims that chemicals from the Dry Run landfill, owned by the DuPont factory next to his property, are running into his creek and poisoning his cows.

After inspecting the Tennant’s farm, Rob became concerned that there might be some truth to the story so he sets out to uncover the mystery.

At the beginning of the case, Rob discovers a chemical called PFOA spread throughout DuPont reports on hazardous waste dumping. To his surprise, this chemical does not exist in the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) records or anywhere for that matter.

Digging deeper into the issue, Bilott issues a court order discovery from DuPont resulting in hundreds of reports, files, and paperwork from DuPont. Now available for the public eye, those reports can be found here. In this he finds that PFOA (also referred to as C8) is a long chain fluorocarbon made up of unbreakable carbon atoms (PFOA has 8 carbon atoms hence the name C8). He discovered that they had poisoned the town of Parkersburg with the chemical through their drinking water and air as well as consumers of their products such as Teflon pans which had been coated with PFOA.

What’s worse is that DuPont tested the chemical in the 1960s and knew full well that it was poisonous.


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Bilott brings this issue to light by mailing off all this evidence to the EPA and Department of Justice and DuPont is fined $16.5 million.

This eventually leads Bilott to order a class action lawsuit against DuPont. For this lawsuit to be won, blood samples needed to be taken from Parkersburg residents and assessed for PFOA contaminants and whether it was linked to serious health issues by a panel of scientists. If this was the case, DuPont would need to pay out a settlement and provide medical monitoring for those affected.

After 7 long years, at the end of 2011, the panel of scientists came forward and concluded that PFOA is linked to several cancers. However, DuPont decides to renege their agreement and Rob is in shatters after more than a decades worth of work is dismissed.

The ending of this movie is super important because not only does it distance itself from other narratives and films that have a happy ending, it also tells the story as it is; one that keeps going. Instead of giving up, Rob decided to take the case of every single person affected to court individually. After winning million dollar settlements for the first three cases, DuPont gave in and finally settled the class action for $671 million.


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My favourite moment from the entire movie is the last two lines from the film. The judge asks the defendant who their attorney is and Rob stands up and says he is. The judge then says, “Oh still here huh?” which Rob responds with “Still here”.

An ending that is realistic and acknowledges that the battle is still happening and work is still to be done. This film strived for accuracy and to tell a story that needed to be told for a purpose other than people’s entertainment. People who had not heard of Rob Bilott and his story had heard it now thanks to the film industry and the big names giving it more exposure.

Additionally, this film does an excellent job with its visuals, score, and storyline. Each component complements the other in re-creating the compelling true story. The further you watch, the more intense the film becomes with every horrible detail of this toxic drug slowly coming to light.

The switching of camera angles from the point of view of the audience watching as well as Bilott himself, alongside the gradual intensity of the film’s score, was especially powerful in heightening the seriousness of different scenes. The colour palette of the film was also interesting as it used very greyscale, dull colours to create an eerie feel to places like Parkersburg which gives the audience the feeling that something is wrong from the beginning. The film itself makes you feel the frustrations of Rob because not only do we see this legal battle unfold, we also see the journey of someone who suffered the highs and lows of the entire process.

However, what I appreciate the most about this film is how it creates such a strong resemblance to the original true story. Mark Ruffalo was inspired to produce this piece after reading the NYT article and learning about the dangers of these chemicals through Rob Bilott’s work. The writers, producers, and director worked very closely with Rob Bilott and the actual people (depicted in the movie) that went through the ordeal making sure that accuracy was taken into account.


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In understanding why this film is important, we need to realise that this story has not ended yet and these chemicals still exist within our world.

For a bit more perspective, PFOA classifies as a per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substance (PFA) a man-made chemical. PFA’s are a wide group of over 4000 chemicals which are commonly used for their ability to resist water, oil, and heat. Stain/waterproof coating on fabrics and carpets, cosmetics, sunscreen, medical devices, food packaging, cheap non-stick cookware, and firefighting foams are just some of the products PFA’s exist in.

Not only is it bad for us but it’s terrible for the environment. PFA’s are known as “forever chemicals” because they cannot break down, they stay within us and in the environment forever. It destroys ecosystems and the world we live in.

Since the release of this movie, there has been more awareness of these “forever chemicals” and what we can do to stop them. Mark Ruffalo has become a strong advocate in campaigning for those who are in charge to start regulating the use of these chemicals. For more information on the movie’s activism, go to

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