- Sure, it’s always somewhat disappointing when a film with a director behind it capable of Safe, Far From Heaven and Carol, doesn’t live up to those works. Dark Waters, as strong as it is, is not going to be listed as one of the better films of the year like those previously mentioned efforts from Todd Haynes. The artistic ambitions here aren’t that grand and the material not as suited to Haynes’ talents.
- However, it is certainly worthy of the archives and a very good film, nonetheless. It is a smart and well-acted class action lawsuit procedural drama. If you just read the synopsis you may think this has a ton in common with Todd Haynes’ Safe – but this isn’t the atmospheric mood piece Safe is. The focus here is the story- the hero (played by Mark Ruffalo) and the villain (Dupont). Ruffalo is strong in the lead- he’s in nearly every scene, and Bill Camp comes off well as a West Virginian farmer. I thought Anne Hathaway struggled a little as Ruffalo’s character’s wife.
There is a lovely green tint and lighting scheme– impressive work from Haynes—from the gas station to the bar. It does, sadly, disappear altogether for 15-minute stretches at a time. At the 112-minute mark deep into the film there is a sideways camera angle shot of an emerald hallway in the law firm
A great frame with Ruffalo buried in a row of briefcases
- I’m an absolute sucker for John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” as Ruffalo’s character (from West Virginia) drives around his hometown
Undoubtedly, any film in this drama sub-genre will remind you have Soderbergh’s Erin Brockovich and Spotlight a bit. Although Haynes’ achievement here doesn’t sniff Pakula’s—there’s even an ominous shadow in the parking garage scene that has to make any cinephile think of All the President’s Men.
- Unlike Pakula in his paranoia trilogy- Haynes doesn’t luxuriate in the atmospherics here.
- There are still moments (though few and far between for a Haynes film) of visual panache. The main one is the lights across the window in the car when Ruffalo is driving. The same shots are in Carol – it is luminous—and a stylistic trait of Hayes at this point. Haynes, his go to- DP Edward Lachman and production designer Hannah Beachler (fresh off Academy Award win for her work in Black Panther) mostly keep it pragmatic (Haynes is clearly servicing the story here first) but they can make the outside of a Benihana look beautiful with the reds and greens
DP Edward Lachman (Far From Heaven, Carol, Virgin Suicides) and production designer Hannah Beachler (fresh off Academy Award win for her work in Black Panther)
together with Haynes they can make the outside of a Benihana look beautiful with the reds and greens
- Lachman has worked with Haynes before (Far From Heaven, Carol) and even in the genre before (Erin Brockovich) and has an impressive work without Haynes (The Virgin Suicides) on his resume
- Recommend but not in the top 10 for 2019