There's something wrong with the land in West Virginia, and Mark Ruffalo is on the case. That's the essence of “Dark Waters,” an urgent and respectable dramatization of corporate environmental defense attorney Rob Bilot's saga as he takes on the Dupont corporation for dumping toxic waste. Directed by Todd Haynes as a slow-burn accumulation of speechifying and paranoid research, “Dark Waters” rambles through Bilot's dreary detective work as he exposes an environmental hazard with the potential to impact the entire planet.
A didactic, sometimes listless thriller that drags at just over two hours, “Dark Waters” marks the most conventional directing effort in Haynes' career. Nevertheless, the central concerns of Ruffalo's passion project he also produced ensure a gravitas throughout that grounds the drama in profound concerns. Wearing a frozen scowl as he zips from damaged farmland to his ambivalent Cincinnati law firm, Ruffalo's troubled protagonist stops just shy of breaking the fourth wall and lecturing to the audience as he learns how to take on the Man. At the same time, it's hard not to get caught up in his crusade, and feel the sting whenever it seems like a lost cause.
As legal thrillers go, “Dark Waters” fits snugly into a familiar genre. Tapping into everything from “All the President's Men” and “The Insider” with a touch of “Spotlight” and “Erin Brockovich” for good measure, “Dark Waters” follows Bilot through the evolution of his interests in the case against DuPont, a company that his own firm represents. That central conflict — and Bilot's internal challenges reconciling his country roots with big-city ambitions — injects “Dark Waters” with palpable intrigue, despite the preachiness that bleeds into the material throughout.
Mario Correa's screenplay adapts an article by reporter Nathaniel Rich from The New York Times magazine, and the headline of that 2016 story epitomizes the movie's arc: “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont's Worst Nightmare.” Bilot is on the verge of making partner at his firm and becoming a new father when he hears from Parkersburg farmer Wilbur Tennant Bill Camp, in a frantic turn about his dying cows, and suspicions that the nearby plant was to blame. In Rich’s article, Bilot first hears from Tennant by phone, but “Dark Waters” finds the rumpled figure barging into Bilot’s firm, recalling his family roots in the area. It’s a tight narrative contrivance that underscores the conflict at hand, as Bilot contends with dueling allegiances as his stable world unravels.
Since Bilot’s firm represents a range of corporate clients, his decision to take on DuPont forces continuing showdowns with his boss Tim Robbins, stern and troubled as well as the DuPont suits that consider Bilot and his peers as friendlies. These stagy showdowns are undercut by the lawyer’s eerie visits to Tennant’s farmland, where Haynes’ regular cinematographer Ed Lachman’s inky palette tinges the green landscapes with a shadowy aura bordering on sci-fi; similarly, the movie develops a disquieting atmosphere around Bilot’s lonely hours spent combing through covert documents as he gets closer to the truth of DuPont’s cover-up.
It’s here that “Dark Waters” gets closer to injecting the drama with intimate concerns: When Bilot finally arrives at the essence of his investigation, uncovering the toxic chemical in Teflon products that have infiltrated American households, he’s tasked with explaining the situation to his pregnant wife Anne Hathaway. And while the actress has been saddled with a thankless supporting role, the movie ventures into taut psychological uneasiness as Bilot grapples with the magnitude of his revelations.
While Ruffalo overplays the character’s panic-stricken mindset, Haynes reins it in, pitching the drama into Bilot’s disoriented headspace as his contradictory allegiances collapse into chaos and he finds himself increasingly isolated from the world around him. There’s an undeniable galvanizing effect to the movie’s closing passages, as Bilot tunnels through the backlash and career setbacks to forge a new battle that continues to this day.
Yet “Dark Waters” sticks to a level of naturalistic restraint that often flattens its material into rote dramaturgy rather than intensifying its concerns. Haynes may not be the most obvious match for this sort of well-intentioned agitprop, but nearly 30 years ago, “Poison” tackled the AIDS crisis and homophobia through a riveting allegorical lens. By those standards, “Dark Waters” is strictly by the book, an extension of the concerns recapped in the 2018 Teflon documentary “The Devil We Know” and others.
At the same time, Haynes and Ruffalo have conspired to inject their project with a covert non-fiction component, as end credits reveal multiple characters portrayed by their real-life counterparts, including a grown man disfigured at birth due to toxic waste. It’s a well-intentioned device, but winds up serving as a reminder that the truth is far more upsetting than any fictionalized take.
Still, the movie mines genuine substance from Bilot’s ceaseless determination against daunting odds, a quest that finds the man returning again and again to the courtroom. “You again,” one judge sighs. As a platform for Bilot’s efforts and why they deserve a national profile, the movie has a sincere sense of purpose. It’s a 20-year-old drama that extends into the present, and as environmental concerns continue to escalate, it couldn’t feel more contemporary. While “Dark Waters” chronicles the evolution of an activist, its most effective moment comes with a closing implication that its story has just begun.
Focus Features will open “Dark Waters” in theaters on Friday, November 22.
The fight between diehard Marvel Studios fans and Martin Scorsese stans is starting to feel like if the climactic battle in Avengers: Endgame had lasted for months instead of minutes. At this point, both sides are tired and just waiting for something to end this once and for all, finally putting everyone out of their misery. Thankfully, Mark Ruffalo has a potential solution.
Because the news media apparently wants this fight about what should and shouldn’t be considered “cinema” to last the rest of our lifetimes, a BBC reporter via Indiewire asked Ruffalo for his thoughts about the argument in a recent interview while Ruffalo was out promoting his new movie Dark Waters. The actor is probably best known for playing Bruce Banner/Hulk in the Marvel movies, but he also worked with Scorsese on Shutter Island. After inviting Scorsese to watch some of the Marvel movies with an audience to see how they’re emotionally affected by the characters, Ruffalo tried to offer an actual solution to this battle instead of just dumping more fuel on the flames:
“If we’re living in a world where economics are how we measure the value of a society, then yeah, whoever makes the biggest thing is going to dominate. They are going to try and keep making it again and again. In that [NY Times] article, [Scorsese] said something really interesting, and I wish he took it all the way. He said, ‘I am not suggesting that we subsidize films.’ But that’s exactly what he’s suggesting. We should have a national endowment of the arts that gives money to another kind of cinema and does support another kind of cinema.
If you’re working in the milieu of ‘I’m going to try and make a movie that has economic success’ – which [Scorsese] does too, by the way – then how can you complain about that system when you’re not on top of it anymore? I would love to see Marty create a national film endowment – and he could do this – that lets young, new talent come in that isn’t just driven by the marketplace, but driven by the precepts of art. That would be amazing. That’s really at the crux of this conversation, I think.”
Scorsese, of course, is already being the change he wants to see in the world: he’s been a longtime advocate, preserver, and active champion of the type of movies he thinks the world needs more of. Just this year, he’s executive produced smaller movies like The Souvenir and Uncut Gems. The U.S. already has a National Endowment for the Arts which awards money for grants, but perhaps Ruffalo thinks that with Scorsese’s influence, the master director might be able to lobby the government to institute a national endowment specifically related to film, similar to how the British Film Institute uses National Lottery funds to develop films in the U.K.
EXCLUSIVE: The pilot for Last Summer, the Freeform thriller from Jessica Biel and and Michelle Purple The Sinner, Limetown, has assembled a robust cast in series regulars roles. Michael Landes, Brooklyn Sudano, Harley Quinn Smith, Chiara Aurelia, Mika Abdalla, Froy Gutierrez, Allius Barnes, Blake Lee and Nathaniel Ashton will star in the pilot which recently kicked off production in Texas.
Chiara Aurelia, Mika Abdalla, Froy Gutierrez, Allius Barnes, Blake Lee and Nathaniel Ashton Courtesy of Freeform
Written by Bert V. Royal Easy A, Recovery Road and directed by Max Winkler Jungleland, Flower, Last Summer is an unconventional thriller that takes place over three summers—'93, '94, '95—in a small Texas town when a beautiful popular teen, Kate Abdalla, is abducted and, seemingly unrelated, a girl, Jeanette Aurelia, goes from being a sweet, awkward outlier to the most popular girl in town and, by '95, the most despised person in America. Each episode is told from the POV of one of the two main girls Jeanette and Kate, which will have the viewers loyalties constantly shifting as more information is revealed.
The pilot comes from eOne and will beexecutive produced by Royal and Winkler alongside Iron Ocean Productions' Biel and Purple.
Read the actors' full character descriptions below.
Chiara Aurelia Tell Me Your Secrets stars as Jeanette, a sweet high schooler who has a zest for life, but an almost obsessive need to be loved. Mika Abdalla Project Mc2 plays Kate, the embodiment of teenage perfection. Her life is one to be envied until she mysteriously disappears. Michael Landes The Liberator will play Greg, Jeanette's father, the kind of dad who his kids' friends love, and who thinks the world of his daughter. Though he may present like he has it all together, there are cracks in his otherwise perfect façade. Froy Gutierrez Teen Wolf has been cast as Jamie, the kind of guy everyone loves. He starts as Jeannette's secret crush, who ends up as her boyfriend the following year. Harley Quinn Smith Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood will star as Mallory, a quirky outsider who feels left behind when Jeannette becomes the popular girl. Her anger masks her genuine hurt by her once best friend. Allius Barnes Unbelievable will portray Vince, Jeannette and Mallory's other best friend. He's loyal to his core and continues to stand by Jeannette, even when no one else will. Blake Lee Fam plays Martin, the kind of teacher every student loves. He genuinely cares about his students, maybe even a little too much. Nathaniel Ashton Mr. Mercedes portrays Ben, Jamie's best friend, the kind of guy who tries to see everyone's point of view, which frequently leaves him stuck in the middle. Brooklyn Sudano Taken rounds out the cast as Angela, a bartender at the local dive bar who becomes a sympathetic ear, and has no issue standing up for herself.
The Good Liar is the latest entry in a slowly expanding subgenre best known as They Don’t Make Movies Like This Anymore dramas. In a time of infinite intellectual property, of franchises and sequels and reboots, The Good Liar is a small oasis in a cinematic desert where once there was more frequent life. This literary adaptation is a nasty little thriller, anchored by two elder-statesmen performers whose presence alone likely willed this film into existence. It’s not without its flaws, but The Good Liar has enough charm and is fresh enough by dint of being so different from what the rest of the multiplex has to offer.
Ian McKellen stars as Roy, a wily old con artist who succeeds in his life by swindling people out of reasonable, but not exorbitant amounts of cash. He and his accountant friend Jim Carter of Downton Abbey mostly truck along by staging raids, promising windfalls based on shady offshore real-estate deals, and not much else. Into Roy’s life enters Betty Helen Mirren, a widow and ex-professor at Oxford who seems like the perfect mark: she’s friendly and lonely, with only a suspicious grandson Russell Tovey hanging around, and with a savings account worth millions.
That there are twists afoot should go without saying; any story that includes a con artist among its main characters is bound to be designed with a few storytelling rugs to be pulled out at the opportune moment. The Good Liar, based on the novel of the same name by Nicholas Searle, is framed both by screenwriter Jeffrey Hatcher and director Bill Condon a long way from his Beauty and the Beast remake from 2017 in such a way to en the potential thrills. If there is a disadvantage, it’s not that the surprises in store are predictable – they decidedly aren’t. What is perhaps a bit expected is that there will be surprises, making each sidelong glance or lingering shot seem like a necessary piece in a puzzle that’s yet to be unlocked.
Even in those more telling moments, The Good Liar is boosted by its two lead performances. McKellen, despite being billed second, is arguably the protagonist; so much of the film is told from Roy’s point of view, with Betty being present from the start the two of them having connected via an online dating service as a figure of stability and domesticity in his life. It’s to McKellen’s credit that Roy is ever remotely likable and worthy of empathy and pathos. He’s a soulless type as willing to rob a man blind as he is to callously kill that man in broad daylight just to get away. Mirren – working with McKellen for the first time in a feature film – has an assured chemistry with her male counterpart, and plays the role of a less curious woman well. Perhaps the only issue there is that Helen Mirren is…well, Helen Mirren, an actress of impossible depth, erudition and intelligence, such that playing someone who’s less curious feels like a put-on in its own way.
But…well, to say more would be to begin ruining the story of The Good Liar, including how some of the later twists raise a few too many concerns of implausibility. We’re asked to believe a great deal of Roy before eventually learning that his has been a limited point of view. Again, to delve further is to delve into genuine spoiler territory. Where the story lands is satisfying, even though McKellen’s multi-dimensionality as a performer is such that Roy never is quite so villainous for much of the running time, in spite of being a career thief.
Condon is vastly more at home directing this English thriller than has been the case with a number of his recent efforts. Aside from the sludgy Beauty and the Beast redo, he also directed the Julian Assange drama The Fifth Estate, a film that is best left forgotten after you read this sentence. His sense of pacing and tension works well throughout, aided by McKellen’s modulated performance. Only when Roy begins to genuinely unravel after his well-thought-out plans start spinning away from him does it become clear how much actor and director have been in sync, keeping a firm balance on the story.
The Good Liar is likely going to appeal to an older crowd, or at least the kind of crowd as at home reading a good, pulpy mystery novel as watching another attempt at a franchise or expanded universe. This isn’t a perfect film, but it boasts two of the great legends of modern acting for just about two hours straight. Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren have separately hit greater s, but watching them together in The Good Liar, it’s almost a shame that it took them so long to share the silver screen.
Martin Scorsese’s Marvel movie criticisms have prompted various responses from the filmmakers and actors who call the Marvel Cinematic Universe home, but only Mark Ruffalo appears to be brainstorming a solution to the industry’s Marvel problem. The crux of Scorsese’s argument is that MCU films have turned cinemas into theme parks where studio tentpoles are prioritized for exhibition, pushing more artistic-driven fare out of movie theaters and potentially out of funding. In a new interview with BBC Cinematic’s Sam Asi, Ruffalo offered up a first-step solution to fix this issue.
“If we’re living in a world where economics are how we measure the value of a society, then yeah, whoever makes the biggest thing is going to dominate,” Ruffalo said. “They are going to try and keep making it again and again. In that article [Scorsese] said something really interesting, and I wish he took it all the way. He said, ‘I am not suggesting that we subsidize films.’ But that’s exactly what he’s suggesting. We should have a national endowment of the arts that gives money to another kind of cinema and does support another kind of cinema.”
Ruffalo continued, “If you’re working in the milieu of ‘I’m going to try and make a movie that has economic success,’ which [Scorsese] does too by the way, then how can you complain about that system when you’re not on top of it anymore? I would love to see Marty create a national film endowment, and he could do this, that lets young, new talent come in that isn’t just driven by the marketplace but driven by precepts of art. That would be amazing. That’s really the crux of this conversation.”
Ruffalo not only stars in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Bruce Banner/Hulk, but he also worked with Martin Scorsese on the genre thriller “Shutter Island.”
Scorsese already does extensive work through his Film Foundation restoring cinematic works and exhibiting them for young students and more. The filmmaker has also become a prolific producer of smaller films, and has long championed foreign and indie filmmakers, from Jonas Carpignano “A Ciambra” to the Safdie brothers “Uncut Gems” and Joanna Hogg “The Souvenir”.
Ruffalo next appears as the lead in Todd Haynes’ “Dark Waters,” in theaters November 22 from Focus Features.
The Disney+ launch has already dumped a wealth of existing movies and TV shows from Disney, Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, and National Geographic as part of the streaming service’s five-pronged offerings. On an original programming note, The Mandalorian premiere is already making an impact, and beyond that, folks are thrilled to see these O.G. shows. Down the line, a She-Hulk TV series will crash onto a streaming device near you, but there’s been no smashing casting announcement as of yet.
The series will revolve around Jennifer Walters, who transforms into the green female superhero, and Mark Ruffalo who, of course, plays the current MCU incarnation of Bruce Banner thinks he knows the perfect person for the role. Unfortunately, this would be a damn-near impossible casting move for Marvel Studios to make, but Ruffalo still hits the mark nonetheless.
“I mean, Tessa Thompson’s already Valkyrie but she’d be a great She-Hulk,” Ruffalo told Entertainment Tonight recently. Indeed, Thompson’s present embodiment of Valkyrie, the newly appointed queen of New Asgard who will take a queen in Thor: Love And Thunder, almost certainly disqualifies her to pick up the She-Hulk mantle. That’s even the case with Kevin Feige recently promising that the actress who will play She-Hulk is “going to star in a show unlike anything we’ve done before.”
Given that WandaVision also takes an atypical bent with D23 footage revealing that the show has been framed as a 1960s sitcom, well, maybe She-Hulk will indeed be even more unexpected. Still, one can expect that Thompson won’t play two MCU superheroes at once, and besides, some of us are still rooting for Alison Brie to go green.