Anne Hathaway

Dark Waters

01/03/20

This film is something of a departure for director Todd Haynes, a far cry from the languid luminosity of Carol or Far From Heaven. Instead, he offers us a compelling exposé, a true story told with a devastating urgency.

Because there’s no getting away from it: this is urgent. Based on Nathaniel Rich’s New York Times article, The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare, it tells of corporate greed and negligence on a shocking scale. So far, so depressingly predictable. But there’s more: a dastardly cover-up designed to protect profits at all costs. And the costs are high.

DuPont is a massive company, and one of their most successful products is Teflon. Yes, that Teflon, the stuff that makes your pans non-stick and waterproofs your raincoat. There’s no denying its usefulness, nor its ubiquity. Unfortunately, it also turns out that there’s no denying the toxic nature of one of its components, namely PFOA, a ‘forever chemical’ that is very difficult to break down, no matter how it is disposed of. Not that DuPont have proved themselves too worried about its disposal: they’ve just dumped it in landfill, allowing it to pollute the water.

I should confess here that chemistry is not my strong point. Luckily, the script makes clear that hero lawyer Rob Bilott (Mark Ruffalo) is also a bit deficient in the arena of scientific-understanding; he needs the basics explaining, which gives us the chance to learn alongside him. Where Bilott does excel, though, is in the law – and in tenacity, morality and grit.

The movie is unflinching in its revelations, detailing Bilott’s response to farmer Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp)’s out-of-the-blue request for help. Tennant is not Bilott’s typical client; he’s an environmental lawyer, yes, but of the corporate variety, more used to defending chemical companies than suing them. But Tennant’s evidence is both disturbing and irrefutable: DuPont’s landfill, bordering his farm, has visibly contaminated his creek; his cattle are sick and mad and dying at an alarming rate.

Despite DuPont’s attempt to forestall and stymie his investigations, Bilott persists, and discovers that DuPont have known about the potentially lethal nature of their product for decades. And it’s not just the cows: women working on the Teflon line have given birth to babies with distinctive facial deformities. It’s a poison.

It’s terrifying.

PFOA wasn’t a banned substance then. It is now. But lots of other, similar substances are not. And surely no one on earth is naïve enough to believe that there aren’t countless other companies committing countless other atrocities in pursuit of the mighty dollar, no matter how many of us are endangered by their greed? The 1% don’t even see the rest of us; we’re incidental to them, and if we’re damaged, we’re just collateral.

Yup, this is a spectacularly squalid and depressing tale, as dark and dingy as the cinematography. But there are a few beacons of hope: there is the irascible, taciturn Tennant; there is Bilott, his wife, Sarah (Anne Hathaway), and his boss, Tim Perp (Tim Robbins) – all determined to do the right thing despite the personal costs. A few good people really can make a difference.

And at least in the US they can reach a wide audience, via the robust journalism in some of their broadsheets and through their powerful movie industry. No wonder Todd Haynes felt he had no choice but to make this vital, disturbing film.

4.5 stars

Susan Singfield

Colossal

22/05/17

To say that Nacho Vigalondo’s Colossal is unusual would be something of an understatement; as an indie slacker-flick about a kooky American woman and, um, a rampaging monster in South Korea, it is a genre-defying delight, and certainly the most original film I’ve seen in a long while.

Anne Hathaway stars as kooky woman, Gloria, whose life is spiralling out of control. She’s lost her job and she’s drinking too much, and her boyfriend, Tim (Dan Stevens), is getting sick of her. Hathaway aces the role; she’s convincingly shambolic without being a complete wastrel. It’s easy to relate to Gloria.

When self-righteous Tim decides – self-righteously – that enough is enough, he kicks Gloria out of their New York apartment, and she returns to her childhood home. The house is empty, pending rental: her parents have moved away. And so she is alone, taking stock, and revisiting her past.

When she bumps into her old friend, Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), things start to look up. He offers her a job in his bar, and they hang out together after hours, drinking and catching up. Okay, so it’s a drifting, going-nowhere lifestyle choice, but it’s not so bad. They like each other. They’re having fun.

But Gloria’s chilled-out demeanour masks a growing anger deep inside. Old memories are resurfacing, and the booze can only blot them out for so long. When she sees news footage of a strange monster attacking Seoul, she’s appalled. And even more so when she realises that the monster is a part of her, unleashed upon the unwitting citizens of a city far away. She has to learn to control – rather than suppress – her rage, if she wants to stop its destructive manifestation.

I know, it sounds bonkers. And it is. It’s also bleakly funny and startlingly profound. Sudeikis’s performance as Oscar is beautifully nuanced, his sly abusive disposition gradually revealed. He’s the real monster: an angry, bitter robot of a man, used to controlling those around him. Gloria can only beat him by cutting him down to size – and there’s only one way she can do that. The monster is her twin, her Hyde, her Frankenstein. She has to own it, subvert it to her will.

Oh, look, I could go on for ages here. I found this whole film fascinating. A real gem. Go on, watch it.

4.3 stars

Susan Singfield

Interstellar

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9/11/14

Some films arrive in the cinema burdened by the weight of unreasonable expectation and Interstellar is one such film. Probably the most anticipated release since Prometheus (and look what happened with that!), if we are to believe what we’re told, this film is destined to save the film industry itself because what the world needs now is a major blockbuster and this just might be it. The film takes on weighty themes like the demise of mankind, the exploration of space and some fairly ‘out there’ theories about black holes and the fifth dimension. If much of it feels like a homage to Kubrick’s 2001, that’s no bad thing. The good news is, that though not perfect, Christopher Nolan’s three hour epic manages to hold a viewer’s attention throughout and in two key set pieces racks up levels of almost unbearable suspense.

The world is going to hell in a handcart, mostly because it’s turning into one great big dustbowl. Crops are dying out and ex space explorer Cooper, (Matthew McConaughey) now a corn farmer, sees his livelihood slipping away. When his young daughter Murphy tells him that the bookcase in her bedroom is trying to communicate with her (stay with me) Cooper identifies an anomaly, one that leads him to a remote location, where NASA scientist, Professor Brand (Michael Caine) is preparing a secret space mission, which he hopes will find a way to save the world. He’s prepared to send his own daughter, (Anne Hathaway) as a member of the team and he wants Cooper to pilot the spaceship. But it will mean being parted from his children for many years, with no guarantee of survival…

It’s to the film’s credit, that it makes some fairly unlikely events seem believable, but much of the ‘science’ here is so mind-blowingly complicated, that characters often have to resort to sketching diagrams to ensure that the audience understands it better – and there’s a final M. Night Shymalan-style twist that will either have you starry-eyed with wonder or shouting ‘no way!’ at the screen. Whether Interstellar can save the film industry is debatable. What is for sure is that Nolan hasn’t lost his Midas touch when it comes to creating awe-inspiring cinema. The father-daughter relationship at the heart of this tale is a powerful hook and the cinematography and special effects sequences are often breath-taking. A palpable hit, methinks.

4.8 stars

Philip Caveney