Todd Haynes has a filmography full of
absolute gems. He’s a director able to balance stories with emotional gravitas
and visual wonder; from the glitter splashed rock’n’roll of Velvet Goldmine to the muted and
delicate palette of Carol. If you
head into a Todd Haynes film, usually one could expect to experience a story of
great heart and the treat of beautiful scenes. I wanted to like Dark Waters, and I stepped into the
screening expecting to. As the film meandered through its two-hour runtime, I
honestly found myself struggling to comprehend that this was even a Todd Haynes
film at all.
The tricky thing with writing about Dark Waters as a film is not being able
to ignore the fact it’s based on a very grim reality. The characters here are
real people, meaning that the suffering was not an exaggeration for cinema but
a mere truth of what actual people experienced. Dark Waters handles this truth delicately and doesn’t exploit the
pain of the victims for the sake of dramatic effect. There’s a great
sensitivity dealt, especially when the credits roll and the real-life cameos
are acknowledged. This was a script of care that gave voice to the suffering
these innocent people were knowingly put through. They got that right, at
If you randomly flicked on Dark Waters, you wouldn’t be wrong to
blindly assume it to be a repeat showing of any number of procedural television
series. As a film, it lacks its own identity and suffers from being exquisitely
boring. Todd Haynes’ knows how to do unsettling and bleak, anyone who has seen
1995’s Safe knows this is something
he’s already accomplished. So it’s rather confusing sitting through Dark Waters’ almost endless array of
boardroom scenes with various suits and ties mumbling through key points of
this harrowing story.
There’s a terribly ugly yellow colour
grading throughout that became obvious and distracting. I found myself
considering that perhaps it was purposeful to inspire a sickly feeling. But I
also couldn’t help but wonder if it was purely to add some colour to otherwise
painfully lifeless scenes.
There was one scene transition that was
so good, it was out of place. A transition into an MRI scan that almost gave me
whiplash. I took a moment of pause after it happened to come to terms with it.
A shot much better suited for a sci-fi themed music video.
Mark Ruffalo leads the cast with an adequate performance, Anne Hathaway fulfils the supportive wife trope to a cartoonish degree. The rest of the cast are there going through the motions. For a story with so much emotional turmoil and weight, it’s an odd feeling struggling to recall any stand out moments of acting.
Every aspect of Dark Waters is competently made and crafted, but it never goes
beyond being more than that. It’s a mighty shame since it’s an important story
to tell and it deserves to be recognised. However, the delivery of the film was
dreary and limp.
There’s that saying where the worst
thing art can be is boring. And unfortunately, Dark Waters is boring. I love a good mood piece, I love a bleak
film, but Dark Waters just drags
through its own story. As much as the foreboding score by Marcelo Zarvos tries
to give us a sense of dread, the film itself fails to ever deliver anything of
the sort. Todd Haynes is a brilliant director but something is amiss here.
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