Director: Todd Haynes.
I honestly thought this film was about the water crisis currently happening in Flint, Michigan, where the officials switched their water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River and resulted in exposing 100,000 people to increased lead contamination. I say currently because it’s still ongoing from 2014. Even when Parkersburg, West Virginia was first mentioned in the film, I initially thought this was a precursor to the emergency in Flint. But no, this is a whole other, isolated incident and yet another tragic example of large corporations neglecting the lives and health of local residents.
Based on the The New York Times article “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worse Nightmare” by Nathaniel Rich; we follow the poisoned story mostly through the narrative of said environmental lawyer Rob Bilott; and the story starts from the moment the conspiracy is brought to his attention. However, Bilott was quite possibly the worse lawyer to approach for a number of reasons; one being the fact that Bilott is a corporate defence attorney as oppose to representing private plaintiffs; and two, DuPont, the American chemical giant, who's been around since the early 1900s; happened to be one of his law firm’s largest clients, putting Bilott in a somewhat awkward dilemma of loyalty versus morality; potentially threatening his entire career.
This does add an interesting dynamic to what would otherwise be a typical cat and mouse, prosecution of citizen versus all-powerful corporation seeking justice. But because of Bilott’s position, he’s essentially filing a suit against his own client which poses a number of pros and possibly more cons. Who better to employ than the very lawyer who would normally defend a company like this and having access to inside knowledge, but as a result, risking your career, your firm’s reputation and possibly your family and life.
Ruffalo portrays Rob Bilott in his own interpretation and because of this unique position the story focuses on Bilott’s investigation, the constant turmoil of his conflict of interest and how his own curiosity challenges his morality as oppose to this being a court room drama. As Ruffalo in real life is an environmental advocate, defending animals rights and promoting anti-fracking campaigns. It doesn’t come as a surprise that not only does he star as the lead role, but he also helps produce this film, making this a personal project of his.
There’s a great supporting cast, from Hathaway, Robbins, Garber and especially Camp as the almost incoherent farmer Wilbur Tennant, who aggressively convinces Bilott to look at the conspiracy and the mounds of evidence he has collated; making himself and his family local outcasts. But they are no more than supporting cast with the key focus on Bilott and this isn’t a criticism. We see the litigations, the loop hole after loop hole and the often purposeful challenges put in Bilott's way to truth and justice.
Haynes delivers a rather somber, dark film, setting a miserable, serious tone throughout but this doesn’t make the film hard to watch. As we get further into the story as each shocking revelation is exposed, it only spurs intrigue and disgust. It’s superbly pieced together with some great shots but really, everyone knows this film isn’t about great cinematography but about the real people and as the film comes to it’s end and into the closing credits, we see just how involved and important this film is.
Marcelo Zarvos provides an equally somber and soothing score that really helps the viewers to absorb what’s going on. It’s emotional and at times harrowing when the truth sets in or when a new obstacle is pitted against Bilott and the people. Though, much like Haynes direction, it’s not want viewers will take away from the film and rightly so. Because if you come out and all you talk about is Zarvos’ great score or Haynes choice of camera angle, then the film has partly failed in getting their message across.
This comes from the same film company that delivered us The Post and Spotlight, and being partly produced by Mr. Ruffalo himself, I have nothing but respect for studios and anyone involved who makes whistleblowing films about the pursuit of true justice. There’s more to making a film like this than just to make money at the box office. This is to hopefully expose a much needed truth and educate people. Overall, from the performances, the direction, the score, everything, especially the involvement and attention to detail; this makes this film a very personal mission by all involved.
It certainly raises the question of how many corporate injustices are happening out there, not just stateside, but globally. DuPont in Parkersburg, West Virginia; the water crisis in Flint, Michigan and if you watch the shocking Dirty Money series on Netflix you’ll find out about Plastic giant Formosa poisoning Point Comfort in Texas. Along with this film, it exposes the harrowing truth of how corrupt corporate businesses can almost freely operate without any accountability and how that corruption is highly contagious infecting local authorities, politicians and even the residents themselves which in turn alienates the whistleblowers; making them the enemy of the people and the system. The question is, is it happening in an area near you? Are any of your family or friends falling victim to this level of negligence. And what would you be prepared to do about it? We can only hope for more people like Rob Bilott and farmer Wilbur Tennant.
Running Time: 8
The Cast: 8
Job Description: 10
Extra Bonus Points: 5 for exposing a brutal injustice on the people.