Parents' Guide to

Dark Waters

By Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 14+

Essential, harrowing true story of environmental crime.

Movie PG-13 2019 126 minutes
Dark Waters Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

Community Reviews

age 14+

Based on 3 parent reviews

age 13+

age 13+

Vital Message Affecting Everyone

If you have teens interested in the environment or social justice, this is the story of a reluctant hero who decides to do the right thing, no matter how risky it is for his personal life and career. Robert Bilott is a real life hero, a corporate lawyer who stood up for a farmer and a community poisoned by DuPont, which led him to uncover the biggest industrial contamination case in history. You will be appalled and shocked at the callousness of the coverup and the extent to which Forever Chemicals (known to cause cancer and other serious life-threatening health issues) permeate humanity and the environment while continuing to accumulate in our bodies. Ruffalo and Camp turn in outstanding and accurate performances, and the script is a tightly written and compelling narrative. Expect to want to take action. The film is a genuine wakeup call.

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say (3 ):
Kids say (8 ):

Issue-oriented movies aren't uncommon, but this essential drama feels starker and truer than most; it's patient, unafraid, and stripped of any kind of hollow self-congratulations. Star Ruffalo is one of the keys to the success of Dark Waters, which is based on a 2016 New York Times Magazine article; he burrows deep into a realistic, non-movie-star performance (he also produced the film). But the production's ringer is director Todd Haynes, who's best known for his luscious, edgy soap operas Far from Heaven (2002) and Carol (2015) and their painterly color palettes. Earlier in his career, though, Haynes dealt directly with sickness in films like Poison (1991) and Safe (1995); the latter told the story of a woman suffering from some unknown, undefinable "environmental" disease.

That theme leads right into Dark Waters, and Haynes gives this movie the same queasy, unsettling touch. In one scene, Bilott questions a DuPont representative, showing him a photograph of a boy, Bucky Bailey -- the child of a woman who worked at DuPont -- who has drastic facial deformities; the corporate stooge can't even look at it. Later, Haynes shows us the actual, real-life child, now grown up, asking viewers to really look and not turn away. With the help of cinematographer Edward Lachman, Haynes treats the movie with an absence of color, focusing on airless board rooms, snowy, muddy exteriors, and a general sense of unhealthiness all around. It's as if the very air were toxic. As the movie continues, it becomes clear that there's no clear victor in this David and Goliath battle -- and in fact, the war goes on.

Movie Details

  • In theaters: November 22, 2019
  • On DVD or streaming: March 3, 2020
  • Cast: Mark Ruffalo , Anne Hathaway , Tim Robbins
  • Director: Todd Haynes
  • Inclusion Information: Gay directors, Female actors
  • Studio: Focus Features
  • Genre: Drama
  • Topics: Activism
  • Run time: 126 minutes
  • MPAA rating: PG-13
  • MPAA explanation: thematic content, some disturbing images and strong language
  • Last updated: December 2, 2022

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