Dark Waters Parent Guide
This movie is violent and scary - but not in the ways you expect. There's no blood and gore, just greed run unchecked, with terrible consequences.
Parent Movie Review
Violent movies usually involve fistfights, firearms, or superhero action sequences. Punches fly, shots ring out, and spandex-clad characters fly through the air. There might or might not be blood splatters, broken bodies, and death. But in Dark Waters, the violence is entirely impersonal: it’s perpetrated by suit-and-tie-wearing corporate officers whose pursuit of billion-dollar profits attacks the bodies and destroys the health of thousands of their fellow citizens. Protected by its massive political and economic clout, the DuPont corporation is unlikely to be exposed or called to account for its willful poisoning of an entire community. Until, that is, some cows start dying…
Up and coming lawyer Robert Bilott (Mark Ruffalo) is enjoying the fruits of a career spent defending large corporations. Newly elevated to a partnership in a prestigious law firm, Bilott can expect increasingly lucrative cases. Then Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp) walks into his office and demands help figuring out which chemicals in Dupont’s local dump are killing his cows. Bilott insists that he isn’t the right lawyer for the job until he goes to Tennant’s farm, sees the mounds in his bovine graveyard, and watches Tennant shoot a cow who has a seizure and goes on the attack. Shaken by the magnitude of Tennant’s problem, Bilott begins what he believes will be a simple investigation, not knowing that it will consume the next two decades of his life.
Dark Waters is a slow movie. That’s not a bad thing; it’s accurate. The law is often ponderous, sometimes tedious, and always requires patience. Day after day, month after month, Bilott plows through the thousands of DuPont documents turned over in disclosure, until he finally pieces together what DuPont has done, not just to Tennant’s cows, but to uncounted numbers of human beings. He fights against DuPont, he argues with his colleagues to continue to underwrite a massive lawsuit for a client whose payment will only come if they win, and he struggles to be present at home for his wife, Sarah, and their young sons. Anne Hathaway’s portrayal of Sarah Barlage Bilott is particularly effective in highlighting the price paid by the entire Bilott family in the pursuit of justice for DuPont’s innocent victims.
Parents looking for films that provide positive messages for their teens can definitely add Dark Waters to their list. Its biggest content issue is profanity, with two sexual expletives and another dozen or so moderate and mild profanities scattered throughout the story. But the negative content is more than balanced by the movie’s depiction of characters with integrity, compassion, courage, resilience, persistence, and unwavering commitment. Real life role models this exceptional are hard to find and worth sharing with our families. And, as an added bonus, the movie also portrays a solid marriage between loving partners who are able to disagree constructively while also treating each other with respect and affection.
Dark Waters isn’t a graphically violent film and parents don’t need to worry about gory images that will frighten their teens. Its violence is more insidious – the strong and well-connected refusing to take responsibility for the terrible consequences of their corporate decisions on the bodies of the weak and powerless. This isn’t a movie that frightens audiences. It’s a movie that angers them. All the more reason to let teens watch this show – one of them might become Gen Z’s own Rob Bilott.Directed by Todd Haynes. Starring Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, and Tim Robbins. Running time: 126 minutes. Theatrical release December 6, 2019. Updated April 6, 2020
Watch the trailer for Dark Waters
Rating & Content Info
Why is Dark Waters rated PG-13? Dark Waters is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for thematic content, some disturbing images, and strong language.
Violence: A cow has a seizure, charges at a man and is shot twice. A man is shown organs and black teeth removed post mortem from sick cows. A dog barks and moves in an unnatural manner. A dog is seen with a tumor. A girl is seen with black teeth. A man tells his wife their baby is being poisoned. A house burns down; firefighters suggest the fire was set on purpose to intimidate someone. A man lies on the ground, pointing his shotgun at the sky. There are several scenes with people yelling at each other. A man has sores on his arm. A character learns about experiments conducted on people which cause serious medical harm. A picture of a baby born with facial deformities is seen on a couple of occasions. Pictures of dissected lab animals are briefly seen. A man has a seizure and collapses on the floor.
Sexual Content: A married couple hug and kiss on several occasions, including a fully clothed embrace in bed. Teens remove clothing to go skinny dipping at night: we see a blurry image of a man’s bare buttocks underwater. Boys say “hooker” and “prostitute”, with no detail.
Profanity: There are over one dozen profanities in this movie, including two sexual expletives, scatological curses, anatomical terms, and terms of deity.
Alcohol / Drug Use: There is minor social drinking. A man in the background is seen smoking a cigarette.
Page last updated April 6, 2020
Dark Waters Parents' Guide
Dark Waters is based on the true story of Rob Bilott and his class action lawsuit against chemical giant DuPont. For more information about the real events, check out these articles.
The New York Times: The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare
Thefilmstage.com: “Dark Waters” and the True Story of How DuPont is Poisoning All of Us
Robert Bilott makes a considerable financial sacrifice, not to mention his peace of mind. What drives him to go after DuPont, even though it seems to be a hopeless case? Have you ever done something difficult because of your moral values?
Do you live in a community with legislation that protects your environment? Is the legislation enforced? What can you do to improve the health and safety of your community?
Loved this movie? Try these books…
Why are some people willing to take enormous personal risks to do what they believe is right? In Beautiful Souls, Eyal Press explores what drives them.
Robert Bilott wrote his own account of the legal battle with DuPont in Exposure: Poisoned Water, Corporate Greed, and One Lawyer’s Twenty-Year Battle against DuPont.
Concerned about chemical pollution of the environment? You might want to read The Polluters: The Making of Our Chemically Altered Environment. Written by Benjamin Ross and Steven Amter, this book examines the introduction of several toxic chemicals, the warnings given by scientists, and the political calculus that allowed their continued use.
Class action lawsuits have often been controversial. Coming from an unexpected perspective, Brian T Fitzpatrick has written The Conservative Case for Class Actions, arguing that these suits hold businesses accountable.
The most recent home video release of Dark Waters movie is March 3, 2020. Here are some details…
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Stories of people who sacrifice to follow their consciences abound in film. Matt Damon stars as a corporate whistleblower in The Informant.
Official Secrets tells the story of a translator for British counterintelligence who receives an email that alerts her to the lies the government is telling the people in the rush to war in Iraq.
An FBI agent is involved in unmasking a foreign mole in the agency in Breach.
In The Interpreter, a woman shares information she overheard concerning an assassination, only to be treated as a suspect.
A young police officer can’t turn her back on murder and corruption in Black and Blue.
In Erin Brockovich, a young woman assists her attorney employer in a class action lawsuit against a utility company whose waste has sickened a community.