Let’s talk about Dark Waters.

Or more accurately, campaigning movies. While every movie has a different aim, some have loftier ambitions than that. Some want to change the world. And they do so by wanting you by the end of their movie to back whatever cause it is promoting. The most famous director to undertake this sort of campaigning movie on the regular is Ken Loach who does nothing but make political points in his movies. Most notably was Cathy Come Home which led to the formation of homelessness charity Crisis and to this day he makes movies which have campaigned for the change, though Loach himself usually ends up as the story nowadays.

Dark Waters is a campaigning movie on an issue that many of us probably don’t realise is an issue. There is a ‘forever’ chemical called PFOA-C8 (catchy name I know) which is used to help make Teflon, something all of us have come into contact at some point in our lives. It turns out this chemical is a poison and not only that, the company that manufactured it knew that it was poison the entire time. This movie is campaigning to have this chemical banned by governments across the world. In my screening, Mark Ruffalo implored us to go sign a petition about it before the movie and the end text crawl that accompanies all real-life stories tells us the shocking fact that 99% of all living creatures have some trace of this killer chemical in our blood. It wants us to be shocked and shocked enough to go do something about it.

The actual narrative, which is based on a real story as mentioned before, enforces that as well. It is based around a lawyer who after meeting with a farmer from his hometown whose cows have all died, takes on a case against the famous Dupont chemical company who the farmer believes have poisoned his animals. In many ways, it’s a typical sort of movie that we see around this time of year. One guy goes against the big guy, David Vs Goliath. It’s a story that has worked for generations and it is one that work for generations more, especially when it’s just a smart bloke versus a company that has been knowingly poisoning its own employees.

And in terms of campaigning, it does its job very well. I went from not knowing anything about this movie and expecting from the trailers for it to be about Flint or something about that water crisis to being absolutely terrified about this chemical and whether I have been poisoned. Probably is the answer to that. I now want to do something about this chemical and see it get banned and I would like to see Dupont get whipped a few more times in court. That’d be fun to watch. I would have signed the petition but I honestly cannot remember the URL and maybe the fact I’m not chomping at the bit to Google it means it’s not perfect in it, but the fact I went from moron to passionate on the subject is a credit to it.

The actual movie is also very good. It is flawed as it is a bit too long and there are a few too many domestic crisis scenes that distract from the story which matters but apart from that, it is very good. The film is slow and dour which allows it to focus on the issues at hand and its bare bones-ness works it in its favour on that. This movie is not Aaron Sorkin whizz-bang action, it’s about the issue and the people trying to get justice for what has happened. Mark Ruffalo puts in a fantastic performance, which I reckon is down to him really caring about the cause, and it is down to his transformation from not knowing a thing about it to outrage about everything which mirrors the transformation the audience goes through which is why it’s nailed. I like how Dupont very rarely has a human face, it keeps the movie realistic in that it doesn’t have a villain whose happy about poisoning people but that gigantic companies are capable of collectively OKing evil deeds for the sake of profit. Also this film has Victor Garber in it and I think more films need Victor Garber in it.

Dark Waters has the chance to change the world. It is very good at making people care about its main issue which is the poisonous chemical that is in our pans. Honestly, I’m kind of scared of them now, it’s an issue while cooking. Even outside of the campaigning, it’s a very good drama about one man who decided to do the right thing and take on a gigantic company with almost limitless resources. It is dry and won’t be for everyone but I think it’s worth a shot just so you can learn something about evil pans. Wait I got the wrong lesson didn’t I?

Former Head of Movies for Screen Critics. Film Reviews now hosted on Medium.