Updated: May 11, 2020
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
Right, producer/actor Mark Ruffalo plays Cincinnati attorney Robert Bilott, who investigates West Virginia farmer Wilbur Tennant's (Bill Camp) claim that something is killing his cattle. He's already lost nearly 200, as they look over the burial ground for his herd.
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4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2019; PG-13 for thematic content, some disturbing images and profanity; streaming via Amazon Video/Prime, Apple (4K), FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play(4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: “Uncovering ‘Dark Waters’”
MARK RUFFALO, best known as the Bruce Banner, the Hulk in Marvel Cinema’s “Avengers’” films, portrays a real champion as Cincinnati attorney Robert Bilott who takes on corporate giant DuPont.
Based on a true story of environmental disaster, Bilott has just made partner at Taft Stettinius & Hollister when he meets farmer Wilbur Tennant of Parkersburg, West Virginia. Tennant claims that the DuPont chemical company is responsible for poisoning his farm and killing his herd of 200-plus dairy cows.
Tennant points out effects of the pollution in a videotape Bilott watches:
“You blind, boy? [See those] stones as white as the hairs on my head. Bleached. That’s chemicals, I’m telling you. My animals drink this water, cool off in there. Get them bloody welts, them dead eyes. Charge at me, crazy-like. Animals that used to eat out of my own hand.” — Wilbur Tennant played by Bill Camp (“Joker,” “Birdman,” “12 Years a Slave”).
Bilott initially tells Tennant he’s got the wrong man; Taft defends chemical companies and even worked with DuPont lawyers on cases brought against it. Still, a connection between the farmer and Bilott’s grandmother catches his attention, and he decides to look into the situation.
(1&2) Teenagers swim in a pond near the DuPont chemical plant, not realizing it was tainted with toxic chemicals. Dupont employees spray a chemical onto the water to keep a white foam from appearing. (3) Tom Terp (Tim Robbins) introduces Robert Bilott as a new partner with Taft Stettinius & Hollister. (4) Wilbur Tennant shows up at the Cincinnati law firm with a box full of VHS tapes showing his sick cows.
A quick visit to Parkersburg raises alarms. Bilott approaches his DuPont connection, executive attorney Phil Donnelly (Victor Garber) for information. The more he finds out, the more alarmed he becomes. One of the components used in making non-stick Teflon and heat resistant materials, PFOA or C8, threatens human life and the environment causing health risks such as cancer and birth defects.
The DuPont plant practically owns and runs Parkersburg; most of the residents are employed at the company that has been using the town as a chemical waste pit and its employees as guinea pigs. As Bilott defends Tennant and the people of Parkersburg against boasts of “Better living through chemistry,” the company throws more and bigger obstacles at him. Stalling becomes an art form, and Tennant becomes a local pariah. Eventually, Bilott files a federal suit in 1999 against the company. It becomes a landmark case that establishes tighter regulation on companies and the effects of hazardous waste.
Still, as the real Rob Bilott points out in the extras, the fight isn’t over. Inhabitants of Flint, Michigan, can testify to that.
“The system is rigged. They want us to believe that it’ll protect us, but that’s a lie. We protect us. We do. Nobody else. Not the companies, not the scientists, not the government. Us.” — Mark Ruffalo as Robert Bilott, attorney for Taft Stettinius & Hollister.
(1) Bilott visits his Grandma in Parkersburg, who's a friend of Wilbur Tennant. (2) Bilott approaches DuPont's in-house corp. attorney Phil Donnelly (Victor Garber) if he knew or heard anything about the Tennant farm and the Washington Works plant in Parkersburg? (3) Bilott returns to the Tennant farm with a report by Dupont and the EPA that said his cows died from herd deficiency in poor nutrition, inadequate veterinary care and lack of fly control. (4) Bilott spends years going through internal DuPont discovery papers, which showed the fluorocarbon PFOA was in the landfill near the Tennant farm. And, the toxins were causing cancer and birth defects.
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment provides three short, but good bonus features. Ruffalo and Robert Bilott discuss the script, locations, and production in “Uncovering ‘Dark Waters.’” “The Cost of Being a Hero” explores Bilott’s experience and Ruffalo’s preparation for the role. “The Real People” looks at the actual people who were involved in the case and appear in the film.
Based on The New York Times article, “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare” by Nathanial Rich, the script was written by Matthew Michael Carnahan of “Deepwater Horizon,” “World War Z,” and “The Kingdom,” and Mario Correa. Todd Haynes of “Carol” and “Far From Heaven” directed.
The 126-minute film was digitally captured and processed to a 2K Digital Intermediate and upconverted streaming at 4K (2.39:1 aspect ratio). Both versions provide a good, film-like appearance with soft grain that is more pronounced in the Ultra 4K. If that’s your thing, go for it.
Color looks authentic, with a less-saturated presence; detail, texture and contrast are also very good. Black levels are consistently deep and inky. HDR10 toning on the 2160p provides a dramatic uptick in visual quality.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack offers clear dialogue with a front-and-center delivery. Effects are not a major component, yet ambient sound is quite good presenting interior and exterior environmental cues. The score is by Brazilian composer Marcelo Zarvos of “Wonder,” “Fences,” and “Enough Said.”
“The systems that are meant to protect us are actually working against us.” — Mark Ruffalo, The New York Times
“Dark Waters” is a film that informs while it entertains. The cast also includes Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, Bill Pullman, and Mare Winningham.
DuPont used its resources – money, misleading information and stalling tactics – to combat the lawsuit. They also employed big-league lobbyists. Time was on their side during the years of that legal battle. Still, the more they pitched at him, Bilott and his team fought. Bilott pushed through personal and professional stumbling blocks including his own health issues.
In the end, we are reminded of what we know is true: people cannot take our health and environmental safety for granted.
— Kay Reynolds
(1) Rob Bilott's wife Sarah (Anne Hathaway) heads to the delivery room for the birth of their next son. (2) Rob pleads with Wilbur to leave his place. He tells Rob that he and his wife have cancer. (3) Rob can't sleep after hearing the news about Wilbur's family. (4) Rob testifies during an EPA hearing in Washington D.C.
(1&2) The start of the class-action suit against DuPont in the Wood County Courtroom. Bill Pullman plays West Virginia personal injury lawyer Harry Dietzler, who worked with Bilott in the suit and represented the 70,000 townpeople who drank water affected by the Dupont chemicals. (3) Local residences were tested for the toxins in the water. The results were finally revealed and linked to multiple diseases like testicular and kidney cancer, ulcerative colitis and thyroid disease. (4) Wilbur died in the midst of the cases against DuPont. (5) Stress from the legal battle Rob develops a transient ischemic attack, that acts much like a stroke.