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Long… but stick with it

27 February, 2020 — By Dan Carrier

Mark Ruffalo in Dark Waters

DARK WATERS
Directed by Todd Haynes
Certificate 12a
☆☆☆☆

FARMER Wilbur Tennant could not understand why his cattle were acting crazy. He could not understand why they were developing weird tumours, why their teeth were turning black, why they were dying in droves.

Then he saw the water in his creek – water that for centuries had helped nurture the land he raised his live stock on – froth and bubble, he saw stones bleached white, and then he knew that something was amiss upstream.

This true story, starring the excellent Mark Ruffalo as lawyer Robert Bilott, lays out how chemical manufacturer DuPont created a synthetic chemical compound that was used as a waterproof coating for tanks in the Second World War – and then realised its non-stick properties would make it good for covering frying pans.

Called Teflon, this substance became a household product, used for all sorts of applications such as carpets, clothes and cookware.

But its long-term effects on humans – those who produced it and used it, and the by-products of its manufacture, is beyond nasty stuff.

This solid legal drama starts with Bilott, a hot-shot lawyer working for chemical firms, being approached by a farmer (Bill Camp) who vaguely knows his grandmother back in a small town in west Virginia.

The farmer is sure something is afoot but is having no joy from the company which owns a landfill dump near his home, nor from the Environmental Protection Agency who should be monitoring what is going on.

Bilott at first is reluctant to help – he works for the chemical firms, not against them – but he slowly realises that there is something in this. He has that life-changing crisis of confidence where he looks in the mirror and wonders what exactly he wanted to be a lawyer for.

What unfolds is a well-told, lengthy story of how the pair took on a multi-billion, multinational firm over decades – and how their work finding out the truth has had connotations for every one of us.

While this film is overlong – much you feel could be trimmed without taking away from its basic premise, it is worth waiting for the facts to pop up on the screen as the credits roll.

You will feel sick at what this grotesque chemical manufacturer has done, as it put its personal profits ahead of your health and that of our planet.

It acts as a parable for two centuries of industrialisation – of how the profit motive that drives companies forward does not translate into what is good for the consumer or the planet we reside on.

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