Movie Review Dark Waters, 0620 RIBJ, RIBJ, 68 RI Bar J., No. 6, Pg. 35

AuthorJenna Giguere, Esq. Deputy Chief of Legal Services Department of Business Regulation
PositionVol. 68 6 Pg. 35


No. Vol. 68 No. 6 Pg. 35

Rhode Island Bar Journal

June, 2020

May, 2020

Jenna Giguere, Esq. Deputy Chief of Legal Services Department of Business Regulation

The overarching storyline of the film Dark Waters centers around the litigation efforts of real-life environmental attorney Mark Bilott. Bilott is portrayed as an understated attorney from a “no-name” college and law school who takes a risk to help a stranger. A coincidental personal connection leads this suited Cincinnati corporate environmental defense attorney to jump to the plaintiff’s side to represent a West Virginia farmer who appears in overalls speaking with a notable Appalachian dialect. Representing the farmer, Bilott takes on the chemical industry giant, DuPont.

In a nutshell, the chemicals at issue in the toxic tort case portrayed in Dark Waters are in a family of fluorochemicals used in the manufacturing of Teflon material. Yes, this is the same Teflon most commonly recognized for its household application as the nonstick lining of frying pans. Also dubbed “forever chemicals,” the durability of these long carbon chains is what makes the chemical so commercially viable. But that durability also equates with difficulty for the human body to break down.[1]

The stark realities associated with the true story provide inspiration for some of the most dramatic scenes of Dark Waters. Chemicals were visibly foaming in the nearby waters. Factory workers exposed to the chemical reported regular flu-like symptoms coined “Teflon flu.” Exposure studies by the industry itself showed links to cancer and birth defects. The real impacts to the farmer, and later to the plaintiffs, lend themselves to heart-pounding action scenes and gory imagery. The depressing tone used to portray corporate greed at the expense of the humblest of humanity is reflected in the muted gray hue selected in the art of the filming.

Dark Waters employs the visual concept of a timeline to contextualize the multiplying hours Bilott dedicated to the case and the mounting frustration of the suffering plaintiffs as years come and went without results. The passage of time is also highlighted using scenes capturing moments of Bilott’s personal life, from feeding his first baby during a spaghetti dinner to three teen boys eating breakfast before leaving for Catholic school. The film maker's decision to capture these personal scenes also...

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