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Mark Ruffalo

“DARK WATERS” My rating: B+ (Opens wide on Dec. 6)

126 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

If in the New  Year America’s landfills are suddenly overflowing with discarded cooking paraphernalia you can blame “Dark Waters,” Todd Haynes’ fact-based examination of how DuPont, in developing Teflon, pretty much poisoned the world.

This legal procedural follows a decade long effort by Robert Bilott, an attorney whose firm counts DuPont as one of its major clients, to determine why first the cattle and later the people living around Parkersburg, West Virginia, began exhibiting bizarre birth defects, horrendous tumors and unexpectedly high death rates.

This isn’t the first time that Haynes have gone off on an environmental tangent. in 1995’s “Safe” he examined the plight of a woman who is literally allergic to just about aspect in modern life. But “Dark Waters” is unique in that it is the most straightforward, unambiguously non-artsy film in a directorial career marked by titles like “Far from Heaven,” “Velvet Goldmine” and “I’m Not There.”

In fact, the artsiest thing in the movie is its gray/blue palette…surely the sun sometimes shines in West Virginia?

Bilott, played with quiet intensity by Mark Ruffalo, is a big-city lawyer whose job is to defend chemical companies.  Then he’s approached by farmer Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp), an acquaintance of his grandma, who demands that the high-priced attorney investigate the death of more than 100 of his cows after they drank from a stream on his land.

The Tennant property  abuts a decades-old DuPont waste storage facility; almost from the get-go Bilott (and those of us in the audience) knows where this is going. The problem is proving it.

Matthew Michael Carnahan and Mario Correa’s screenplay (adapted from Nathaniel Rich’s magazine article) simultaneously focuses on Billot’s long search for answers and his personal journey, using what’s he’s learned representing chemical giants to go after them.

At the same time his singleminded devotion to the case threatens his marriage to Sarah (Anne Hathaway) and his job at a big Cincinnati law firm, where the partners (led by Tim Robbins)  only give him leave to pursue the Dupont matter in the hopes of getting a piece of a massive settlement.

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