We’re all in Dark Waters now

darkw1Todd Haynes’ compelling law drama Dark Waters, based on a true story, is one of those films that enrages and frustrates; not because of any fault in the movie -its really quite excellent- but rather because its subject matter is so monstrous. Conspiracy theories are everywhere, its almost the religion of our age, some utterly preposterous, some quite beguiling- so much so that there is a tendency for it all to become just so much background noise. Dark Waters is a sobering reminder that not all conspiracy theories are fanciful, that some of them are not only true, but wilder than one can possibly imagine. 

Thus more fuel to the fire: if Dark Waters, and its monstrous reveal that DuPont, an American chemical company, had been knowingly poisoning people since the 1950s through its toxic chemicals in its products (hey, Teflon anyone?), and covering it up for decades whilst making a billion-dollars every year, then how wild and fanciful are claims of danger to public health in Covid 19 vaccines or suspicious provenance of the virus itself? Conspiracy theories that are true inevitably lend sudden weight to others, for good or ill, and the alarming, to me at least, revelation that self-regulation is even a thing (its like asking criminals to police themselves) is enough to raise my blood pressure to new heights.

To be clear: if Dark Waters does anything well, it is in making the viewer angry. Angry at corrupt businessmen and corporations, and the armies of lawyers and legal firms that get rich defending them, and the politicians and government agencies that abet them. None, really, come out well in this film, blighting decades of American history and usurping any faith in the American Dream (or rather, offering a sense of what that American Dream has become: seemingly, everything is okay regards making money as long as you don’t get caught).

Of course, the upshot is, its not just American history: the saga here in the UK regards the terrible fire at the Grenfell Tower in London, and the horrifying reports of corporate malfeasance, apparent dodging of responsibility in authority and regulatory governance – the truth will out, we are assured, but will justice be done? One has to wonder.

darkw2So Dark Waters, then- well, its certainly more than the sum of its parts. One would expect an arresting courtroom drama and revelations of corporate misdoing,  its almost a genre of its own, after all, albeit one seldom returned to in this age of superheroes and action blockbusters. In this respect, the film is a welcome throwback to the American Cinema of the 1970s, one that was more suspicious, more incisive and possibly more informative than the popcorn cinema it has since become. Moreover, it isn’t really a feel-good, right-beats-wrong law drama, more of a sobering ‘be worried, be concerned, feel unsafe, get angry’ drama for our times. 

Director Todd Haynes is well-served by an excellent script and a marvellous lead performance by Mark Ruffalo who plays a convincing Everyman as Robert Bilott, whose life is turned upside down when farmer Wilbur Tennant ( wonderfully played by character actor Bill Camp) calls him about his livestock being poisoned: its literally one of those life-changing moments that has a clearly distinguished Before and After. Before, he was a slightly overweight, career corporate lawyer whose loyalty and busy work ethic saw him about to become a partner in his Cincinnati law firm, Taft Stettinius & Hollister, in 1998. After, and he’s a man obsessed with discovering hidden truths and what it all means, challenging his personal views of Right and Wrong and justice and impacting his career and his family life. Initially he is convinced it is innocent, accidental wrongdoing easily corrected, but as he digs his expectations are challenged, incensed by obvious neglect and decades-long corporate cover-ups of cancers, malformed children and widespread poisonings of livestock and humans on a truly horrific scale.

Perhaps the most horrific lies in the intimate: Wilbur Tennant, who himself ultimately dies of cancer related to the poisonings, had tried for years to get someone, anyone, in his area to look into his claims and it was only because of  Robert Bilott’s almost quaint sense of familial loyalty (Tennant is a friend of Bilott’s grandma) that he looks into the case at all -at odds with is own boss, Tom Terp (Tim Robbins) who questions why he bothers-  and begins to uncover the truth. Its very likely that everything would have remained covered-up had Bilott not felt inclined to take an interest due to his personal values. Justice almost by accident, it seems. The alarming fact that it only came to light because of an individual, and that the authorities seemed naturally predicated upon backing the DuPont company, to the point of actually abetting it, seems to charge the most fanciful conspiracy theories with some credence. Who are we to believe? We are all in Dark Waters now.

 

Now You See Me (2013)

now12016.54: Now You See Me (Amazon VOD)

Now this is the kind of modern film that has me scurrying for the safety of 1960s/1970s films, back when film-makers had some common-sense and restraint. Now You See Me stretches the bounds of believability and then goes another 100% beyond that just for good measure. Modern film-makers don’t do subtle, do they? As the film had enough success to spawn a sequel I guess the mindless, spectacle-at-any-cost cinemagoers simply lapped it up. Maybe when they actually think about what they are watching they will realise they’ve been had. It’s a horrible con of a movie and one of my most depressing viewing experiences this year.

Its supposed to be about magic tricks and illusions but leaps into implausible extremes of logic and luck with so many WTF moments of CGI excess that I had to wonder if I’d stumbled onto another Marvel superhero franchise. It really is that daft with its incredibly funky/hip/beautiful/sexy (yep so Hollywood) ‘magicians/tricksters’ demonstrating impossible acts of illusion and impractical extremes of blind chance. It’s a shame really as the basic premise is interesting and could have made a decent thriller/mystery but as usual with modern films the film-makers cannot restrain from just going too far for spectacle and theatrics that simply cannot bear any intelligent scrutiny. None of the characters feel ‘real’, or the events they are situated in seem anything other than a noisy fantasy.

Do people watch a film like this and really believe it? Do they just blindly accept the patronising excuses/explanations pandered to them by such an inane script and offered up with blatant ignorance of any audience intelligence? At one point a giant safe under guard in a warehouse is apparently stolen, only to be explained as a supreme ploy of misdirection, as the safe is still in the warehouse but cunningly ‘hidden’ by an elaborate giant mirror somehow installed without the authorities knowing about it- indeed, the authorities chasing the supposed getaway truck without examining the crime scene enough to spot a gigantic 100-foot mirror hiding the actual safe still in its original position behind it? Or an elaborate chase scene culminating with a mock-crash/fatality on a bridge that is subject to such crazy chance and unlikely serendipity, and puts so many members of the public at risk of harm or death, that it’s just laughable when the ‘explanation’ is eventually given. It’s beyond preposterous; it’s insulting the viewer’s intelligence- particularly  when it includes a passing remark about a corpse being ‘borrowed’ from the morgue as if it’s just an ordinary occurrence, or that ‘magicians’ with no stunt-driving experience can rig an elaborate stunt that requires CGI augmentation for even a Hollywood film-crew to pull off.

At other points such daft excuses aren’t even attempted-  one of the magicians floats above an audience in a giant soap bubble, blatantly just a CGI effect, with no subsequent attempt to explain how the ‘illusion’ is really performed as it’s impossible fantasy- simply just a thoughtless ‘wow’ moment that gets carried by the films relentless don’t-pause-to-think-about-anything pace. So many films now race along breathlessly simply because they are so daft, with such supreme leaps of ridiculous logic and gaping plot-holes, that the film would fall apart if forced to bear any examination. I hate films like this, as they just refuse to give anything -including the audience- any sincerity or respect. Its spectacle and nothing more, pandering to a mindless viewer who just wants the ‘wow’ whatever the cost, just like any Transformers movie. To maintain the pace some of the editing is so extremely tight that it’s physically impossible for some actions to take place in the ‘real’ world, with characters ‘leaping’ from location to location almost instantly, lapses of logic carried away by the noisy soundtrack and bright flashy spectacle.

It is a horrible movie. Really horrible. And even more horrible is that so many people like it and we’ve apparently got a sequel- good lord, has the world gone mad? The lesson here is that people get the films they deserve and actors will do any movie for a paycheck.

No, I really didn’t like it!