Years ago I saw and argued in print with a Hong Kong reviewer, who disparaged the film. And now I see how right I was to defend it!
Great performance by Al Pacino, in a deft screenplay, whose power is masked by the film presenting itself more as entertainment than biting satire – a film that puts the New York legal system to the blade.
Reading Robert Bilott’s ‘Exposure’ on Du Pont’s chemical pollution in Parkersburg, West Virginia, the book in giving a great deal of legal and personal background to the story in the film Dark Waters (see below), answered a question that came to me while seeing the film: why wasn’t Bilott removed from his Ohio corporate law firm particularly as corporate defence was its main bread and butter?
I wondered how Du Pont’s power didn’t trump Bilott’s personal and moral interest in the plight of one farmer, Wilbur Earl Tennant, by simply pulling strings to give the crusading lawyer an offer he couldn’t refuse. Get out of town boyo, now. They tried. More power to Rob for his courage and dedication, and to Earl of course who started the whole process.
Rob Bilott in jumping the fence to take the plaintiff’s side against Du Pont uncovers an ugly story of corporate harm done to the community of Parkersburg and surrounding populations. The casual and arrogant ease with which this immensely powerful and rich corporation lied and cheated and eventually killed people in the pursuit of profit is as stunning as it was breathtaking (pun intended).
Working in tandem with weak and complicit authorities to hide the facts of a chemical dumping program, Du Pont knowingly carried on its ‘corporate crime’ for years and years, poisoning water supplies, the air and earth, abusing the basic trust its economic stranglehold over the small community provided by economic default, placing a virtual muzzle on anyone who dared question its activities. And I am still only half way through…more later, COVID-19 lockdown giving me valuable reading time.
As a filmmaker and writer everything I saw and heard in Dark Waters was pitch perfect for me. Is this the point when an already very, very good filmmaker makes something so significant it and he cannot be ignored? On my one viewing I would say definitely yes. So, how did Todd Haynes, and the cast and crew, not receive any Oscar nominations? The answer to that is unfortunately in the film itself.
Mark Ruffalo is exceptional as the initially unsure advocate (should I, shouldn’t I take this case?) the reluctant hero turning crusading lawyer travelling deeper into the lies and cover up world of Du Pont’s immoral practices, as he takes them on in the courts. The journey is long and far from easy.
Based on the New York Times Magazine’s “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare” by Nathaniel Rich, the story is real, the deaths associated with teflon and the poisoned waters from chemical spill run-off are countable, coupled to another important fact—the film narrative is so well managed and un-histrionic in its style and delivery that it makes watching dramatic and very affecting.
The mantra told often to us by lecturers in JD units: ‘a lawyer reads, that’s what a lawyer does’ hit home as I watched the many boxes of incriminating documents and records being wheeled into Mark Ruffalo’s (Rob Bilott’s) law offices.
How was Bilott not removed from his firm? It’s to my relief and all our benefit that he kept his position and kept on fighting the actions. A roomful of long applause for all involved.
As Brexit continues morphing out over the coming months, I think we should begin sharing experiences of what it has been like to live in and freely travel around Europe before our rights disappear. The ‘good’ the young of Britain in particular are about to lose.
Automatic right to be and travel inside Europe without a visa, attend universities, work without foreigner status conditions, to learn languages, share in the life as citizens of Europe with equal rights.
What the Europe Union does so well is not to look towards obvious economic stimulants as bridges to future social, cultural and economic activity, but to social and cultural stimulants, which when aggregated from individual life-changing experiences multiply in exponential societal ways, not only across Europe but across the world. Europe is a civil and cultural force unlike any other.
Here is an early pre-FOM personal European experience, before freedom of movement was instituted, but giving reason to why it is so good for societies and individuals.
The Odeon of Herodes Atticus. The ancient Odeon, built by Herod Atticus 161 AD, situated at the foot of the rock of the Acropolis with the Parthenon as a backdrop. The Odeon of Herodes Atticus written up by Vernon Kidd in the New York Times, describing a 1981 Athenian summer component in a plethora of Europe-wide festivals, The Athens Festival awaiting travellers…“plays of Euripides, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Aristophanes … presented by the National Theater of Greece, the Amphi-Theater, the Art Theater and Northern Greece State Theater. Tickets: from $1.20 to $6. July 5 to Sept. 25.”As Kidd’s NY times article detailed, Ancient Greek theatre in the ancient Odeon was only a small part of a Europe-wide extravaganza of arts festivals in the summer of 1981.
So, unaware of any of the above, one hot early July ’81 evening I wandered up the road from my Plaka hotel to the Acropolis, this young filmmaker then resident of Hong Kong. As darkness gathered, I sat myself on a wall to take in the dusk scene at a spot overlooking the lit-up Odeon of Herodes Atticus theatre. A rehearsal was going on way down below. Intrigued very quickly by what I saw, I hiked down the hill to find out what it was I was watching. A poster outside the Odeon announced the Athens Summer Festival’s showing of The Acharnians by Aristophanes. Had I see an Aristophanes play before? No.
I returned to my hotel and the next day bought a ticket for the play at a ticket outlet – (prices of the day ranging from $1.20 to $6). I found a Penguin translation of the play in a bookshop, read it, and no wiser I have to say set off a night later to see the performance.
The Acharnians was first performed in 426 BC. A strident anti-war play it is credited with being the oldest staged Greek comedy. I didn’t know what to expect because the Penguin translation did not make anything clear. Still, I had seen the rehearsal. That was enough. The play itself would do the rest.
The Odeon theatre is an extraordinary space, but on a hot July summer night it is other-worldly. The night air made translucent by light was alive with what looked like tiny floating tips of flowers, rising in the warm air all throughout the amphitheatre. In jeans, t-shirt, sandals surrounded by Greeks in evening dress I felt a rank outsider. Yet nobody cared.
What truly resonates with me most, nearly forty years later, is how an ancient play, interpreted, performed and directed as it was, was soon so relevant for a 1981 audience. Filled with dance, mime, mask, and music, George Kounis’ (or Kouns’) production lifted me off my seat. This was not a stilted play from Ancient Greece, a production I remembered too well from university productions. The Penguin translation was swept from my mind.
Dicæopolis, a native of Acharnæ and an ex-soldier returns disillusioned from the Persian wars, heartsick at the miseries and stupidities of the conflict. Not shy in making his views known, with earthy gestures he rails against fellow citizens, while a chorus of startled, indignant citizens in white masks, odd hats and fantastic bed square sewn quilt costumes, rush in dance formation from one side of the stage to the other, all to a cacophony of startling music and sound effects, remonstrating with him and each other. The audience was in stitches inside minutes. I didn’t understand a word yet understood everything.
As a writer it is hard to communicate the effect this experience has had on me: the hot July night, the western world’s most ancient comedy, the mime, dance, costume, design and performances, Greeks all around me ‘rolling in aisles’, the old director helped on stage after the performance – I felt as if theatre itself, not only the ancient Greek concept of ‘spectacle,’ had finally been made clear to me.
photograph by and courtesy of Berthold Werner 2017
With the global financial crisis deepening and spreading into communities (aided and abetted by years of political corruption) in recent months the number of workers in Italy who have taken their own lives has risen fast.
13 April 2012. Sesto, Fiorentina, Firenze. Giuliano V., ex-manager, 42, died by throwing himself under a freight train. Four months before he had lost his position in the marble production sector in Garfagnana. Falling into a deep depression he had tried to create a new life and career without success.
12 April 2012. Treviso. Paolo Tonin, 53, agricultural businessman hanged himself in his business premises. According to his family, the suicide was as a direct result of the difficult economic climate his business had been plunged into.
9 April 2012. Valtiberina, Arezzo, 27, owner of a woodcutting business, killed himself in a forest by connecting a hose to the exhaust pipe of his car. Family and friends said he was overwhelmed by his debts. He had just received a tax bill for 50,000 euros.
5 April 2012. Savona. Vittorio Galasso, independent builder, 52, hanged himself in the apartment he was renovating. According to friends, he could not go on facing little work and rising debts. He left a wife and two children of 15 and 17 years.
3 April 2012. Roma. Mario Frasacco, businessman, 59. His aluminium products company failing, workers being laid off, Frasacco shot himself in his business premises. His body was found the morning after by his twenty year old son.
2 April 2012. Roma. Pasqualino Clotilde, artisan, 57, hanged himself in his framing shop. A note explained his reasons: “insurmountable economic problems.” The day before his wife had begun working in a cleaning company to help pay off family debts.
23 March 2012. Cepagatti, Pescara. E.F, businessman, 44 years, hanged himself because he was desperate over the economic situation of his window and door frame company. His body was found by his company employees.
21 March 2012. Scorrano (Lecce). Antonio Maggio, craftsman, 29, hanged himself after losing his job on an excavation site. With the job he had been supporting his widowed mother. A few days before he lost his job, he received a payment notice for rubbish collection.
9 March 2012. Ginosa Marina (Taranto). Vincenzo Di Tinco, 60, shopkeeper, hanged himself after his bank refused him help. Proprietor of clothing company he was refused a 1,300 euro loan notwithstanding his 40 years in business.
9 March 2012. Noventa di Piave (Venezia). Carpenter, 60, took his own life because delay in receiving payments from clients. His body was found by a co-worker in their work premises.
26 February 2012. Firenze. Businessman, 64, found hanging in his premises, due to economic difficulties.
15 February 2012. Paternò (Catania). Owner, 57, of an agricultural machinery company, hanged himself in his warehouse. His company had numerous debts.
3 January 2012. Milano. Giancarlo Chiodini, electrician, 64, shot himself in the head in his van parked in front of his work premises. Dedicated to his work, in recent times he had become obsessed by worry over promised contracts that did not materialise and delayed payments.