Richard has a look at the new movies coming to theatres, including “Knives Out” with Daniel Craig and a cast of n’ere do wells, the Disney+ revamp of “Lady and the Tramp,” the odd couple picture “The Two Popes,” the corporate legal drama “Dark Waters,” and the thought provoking “Queen & Slim” with CFRA morning show host Bill Carroll.
The only thing big and green in Mark Ruffalo’s new film “Dark Waters are the hulking wads of cash a major corporation is willing to pay to cover up an ecological disaster.
Based on true events, Ruffalo plays corporate defense lawyer Robert Bilott, a native West Virginian now working for an upscale Cincinnati firm. He makes a living defending big companies but when Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp), a friend of his grandmother shows up complaining that chemical giant Dupont is poisoning his livestock, Bilott is at a loss for words. “I defend chemical companies,” he stuitters. “Well, now you can defend me,” replies the plainspoken Wilbur.
Bilott knows the farm. As a kid he rode horses and milked his first cow there and even though the he doesn’t think he can help, he agrees to have a look. On the land he finds horrifying things. 190 cows dead, many born with birth defects and tumors. Wilbur is convinced that runoff from a nearby landfill is responsible. What was once a pastoral paradise is now a poisoned plot of land.
To paraphrase the famous John Denver song, country roads lead Bilott back home to place he belongs, defending a farmer done wrong by a conglomerate more concerned with profit than people.
“Dark Waters” is about accountability. Bilott spends more than a decade of his life, putting his health and family life at risk to take a corporate Goliath to task for their irresponsible behavior. Ruffalo does a good job at portraying the Bilott’s decline as he is worn down by the tactics of his foe, the impatience of the people he is trying to help and his inability to force the power brokers to play fair. It humanizes a story that otherwise would be a high level legal procedural.
Director Todd Haynes shoots the story in drab tones that echo much of the colorless work—i.e. cataloguing the mountain of paper sent over by Dupont in the form of discovery. It doesn’t make for a compelling looking film but it helps set the scene and tone. Fighting back isn’t glamourous work. It’s about late nights, crappy food and a constant feeling of exhaustion.
“Dark Waters” isn’t a thriller. From the first frame there is no question about who is guilty. The question here is how guilty and will they ever pay for what they have done? It is geared to outage and infuriate, to underscore that the big guys don’t always win. It is marred by a leisurely approach and some paper-thin characterizations, but the David and Goliath story is compelling.
Richard sits in with Marcia MacMillan to have a look at the weekend’s new movies, the true-to-life thrills of “Deepwater Horizon,” Tim Burton’s X-Men-esque “Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children,” the thriller “Imperium” and the ripped-from-the-headlines documentary “The Lovers and the Despot.”
Director Peter Berg makes manly-men movies about tough guys willing to sacrifice all in the service of others. Films like “The Kingdom,” based on the 1996 bombing of the Khobar housing complex and “Lone Survivor,” his look at the unsuccessful United States Navy SEALs counter-insurgent mission Operation Red Wings, are loud action movies bound together by testosterone and sentiment.
His latest, “Deepwater Horizon,” based on the worst oil spill in US history, fits comfortably alongside “The Kingdom” and “Lone Survivor.” All three are true life tales, ripped from recent headlines, and each of them are loud, in-your-face movies that feel more motivated by muscle than brains.
Mark Wahlberg is Mike Williams, husband to Felicia (Kate Hudson), father to an adorable little girl and the chief engineer of the offshore oil drilling rig Deepwater Horizon. In April 2010 he left for a routine twenty-one day stint aboard the rig that turned disastrous when an uncontrollable gusher of crude oil caused an explosion that ultimately left 11 of the 126 crew members dead.
It takes an hour of getting to know everyone, like British Petroleum executive Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich), no-nonsense crew chief Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell) and rig mechanic Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez), before disaster strikes, both literally and narratively. When the rig blows it takes with it any semblance of storyline, replacing with plot with forty minutes of relentless, fiery action.
Berg doesn’t just want to show you the hellish circumstances that destroyed Deepwater Horizon, he wants you to leave the theatre feeling as though you were there. Fireballs light up the screen as the sound of twisted, breaking metal fills your ears. It’s effective, if a little repetitive after thirty minutes or so. The characters get a little lost in the commotion and are frequently hard to see through the plumes of smoke that decorate the screen.
As an action movie and a story of resilience “Deepwater Horizon” is a visceral experience. As a tribute to the men who lost their lives in the blast it feels less thought through. The In Memoriam roll honours those lost, but feels tacked on after the bombast that precedes it.
Also strange by its absence is any comment on the devastating ecological consequences of the event.
“Deepwater Horizon” is a showcase for Berg’s muscular filmmaking but could have used a little more nuance.