American legal thriller Dark Waters opens in Ireland this weekend and it’s a film that every lawyer should see.
The film is based on a 2016 New York Times article “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont's Worst Nightmare”.
Dark Waters tells the story of US lawyer Robert Bilott, and how he took on chemical colossus DuPont, at great personal cost.
Directed by Todd Haynes in a gripping fashion with grainy 1970s-style colouration, Dark Waters has strong echoes of 1970s classics, such as All the President’s Men and The French Connection, in its brooding paranoid atmosphere.
Robert Bilott, played by Mark Ruffalo, is a corporate defence attorney from Cincinnati, Ohio working for law firm Taft, Stettinius & Hollister.
He is visited by a farmer from his Parkersburg, West Virginia home town, who believes that his herd of cattle has being poisoned by run-off from a neighbouring chemical factory.
A total of 190 animals have died on the farm, exhibiting bizarre medical conditions such as bloated organs, blackened teeth and festering external tumours.
Bilott’s pursuit of the case is unpopular with his law firm colleagues, since they already act for the chemical giant.
Served with a legal discovery order for the chemicals that have been dumped on the site, DuPont delivers a lorryload of documents to Bilott, in an attempt to derail his probe.
Bilott is depicted doggedly working through the discovery boxes, annotating papers and searching for clues.
He finds numerous references to PFOA, a chemical not in any medical textbook, but used by DuPont to manufacture non-stick Teflon coating, after they adapted it for domestic use from armoured vehicle waterproofing used by the military.
Bilott's investigations in the DuPont plant vicinity uncover a child born with one nostril, abnormally high cancer rates, and women on the chemical factory production line who have been rendered prematurely infertile.
Through dogged persistence, Bilott unearths the connection between the ‘forever chemical’ that DuPont has been dumping in steel-coated vats, and the blackened teeth and festering sores of the chemical giant’s victims.
Bilott has the sometimes-wavering support of his managing partner Tom Terp, played by Tim Robbins, who eventually bangs the table shouting 'American business is better than this'.
It’s a long, gruelling road to justice and Mark Ruffalo skillfully shows the loneliness and occasional terror of the fight he has undertaken, as well as the personal costs in repeated pay cuts and strained personal relationships.
The film closes out with a heart-lifting Johnny Cash rendition of Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down”.