Dark Waters (2019)
Directed by Todd Haynes (Far from Heaven , Carol ) and based on a magazine article that tells of a true story of one corporate lawyer who challenged a multi-billion chemical empire, Dark Waters focuses on Rob Bilott (Mark Ruffalo) who travels to his home town in West Virginia to discover evidence of gross environmental damage caused by a huge corporation, DuPont. His neighbour’s cattle is dying, water is turning dark and people have health problems in the area. Bilott picks up a Tennant case, thinking it will be over in a matter of months, but the case snowballs over the years as more horrific secrets are uncovered. The concerned lawyer, who is always supported by his wife Sarah (Anne Hathaway), is passionately searching for answers and explanations as the corporation first refuses to admit responsibility and then makes it difficult for numerous victims to seek justice and restitution.
It is great to see Mark Ruffalo in a role that suits him so well. The actor is a passionate campaigner for environmental issues (as his friend Leonardo DiCaprio) and that means he brings a lot of his own enthusiasm, passion and intensity to the role. His character wants to know all the small details, names and inconsistencies of the case, “what “PFOA” stands for?”, he inquires and “why everyone keeps silent about the community’s biggest employer?”, he asks. Ruffalo almost reprises his role in Spotlight , a film which also involved a controversy and the unveiling of a scandal.
Dark Waters does not revolutionise legal drama, stays too close to the narrative of Erin Brockovich  (but without the charm of Roberts) and, surely, does not warrant its running time of two hours. However, it also has a lot of redeeming features. With its muted colours, Dark Waters has a feel of a well-made, detailed and nuanced documentary and the passion of Mark Ruffalo, who is also an active environmentalist, does come through in the film. All that makes Dark Waters an imperfect, but also an insightful and inspirational legal drama. 7/10
Thank You For Smoking (2005)
I love Jason Reitman comedies. His black comedies are punchy, entertaining, but with cleverness and heart to them too. I like how Reitman centres on the most controversial and hard-to-talk-about issues and crises in society: teenage pregnancy (Juno ), unemployment (Up in the Air ) and lung cancer (Thank You for Smoking ), but then turns them into enjoyable satirical materials for screen, too. His stories are fast-paced, full of black humour and hilarious one-liners, and contain that special deadpan wittiness. Thank You for Smoking, adapted from a book by Christopher Buckley, is about a “devil’s advocate”, Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart), who represents the interests of the American Tobacco company, that “statistically kills 1.200 Americans daily“. Nick defends the indefensible and profits handsomely from all his talk too. When one senator starts his anti-smoking campaign, Nick and his company also feel like they need to retaliate (for example, by forcing Hollywood films to promote smoking). However, Nick’s desire to get close to his son and be a good role model for him poses some serious “moral” obstacles along the way.
Aaron Eckhart is good as a cynical man with a “moral flexibility” who can refute every study that links cigarettes to lung cancer and who works for that company that employs that kind of scientists who, in turn, are capable of “disproving gravity”. Nick lobbies in favour of smoking cigarettes and the promotion of the product is challenging, but not too difficult for him, as his boss (J. K. Simmons) says “[cigarettes] are cool, and available, and addictive”, “the job is almost done for us“. The film also benefits from its amazing cast: Maria Bello, Adam Brody, Katie Holmes and Rob Lowe are just some of the actors involved whose characters all have their spotlight and a moment to shine. Thank You for Smoking may have an uneven plot and its emotional message does go astray, but it is still a thought-provoking satire on the corporate world and human dilemmas within. 8/10