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Films I Neglected To Review: You Want It Darker
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "Dark Waters" and "Mickey and the Bear."

As the muckraking legal drama "Dark Waters" begins in 1998, West Virginia farmer Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp) ventures to Cincinnati to inveigle lawyer Robert Bilott (Mark Ruffalo) to file suit against the DuPont chemical company for allegedly dumping toxic materials in a landfill near his farm that have polluted the water and killed off nearly all his livestock. At first, Bilott declines to take his case--he is actually a corporate attorney whose high-powered firm represents companies like DuPont--but he eventually decides to look into it, assuming it is a case of inadvertent low-level malfeasance that can be quickly and quietly fixed. As he proceeds with his investigation--done with the vague approval of one of his firmís senior partners (Tim Robbins)--Bilott is startled to discover that the company has been knowingly manufacturing and disposing an indestructible chemical (one that would be the chief component of the household miracle known as Teflon) that has clearly been the cause of numerous cancers and birth defects among those exposed to it. And yet, even with the evidence literally there in black and white, DuPont's desire to put profits over people leads to more than two decades of slick legal maneuvering that finds Bilott risking his job, family and health in his dogged pursuit to hold them accountable for the crimes they have knowingly committed.

In many ways, "Dark Waters" is a perfectly solid true-life drama that should more than satisfy those with a taste for such narratives. The screenplay by Mario Correa and Matthew Michael Carnahan distills the byzantine details of the case in a clean and efficient manner that doesnít dwell too heavily on the kind of overtly melodramatic moments that feel more like fodder for potential Oscar clip reels. Likewise, the performances are pretty strong all around--I especially liked the supporting turns by Robbins, whose character does not develop in any of the expected ways, and Bill Pullman as an amiable country lawyer who helps Bilott pursue his case in court. However, the film was directed by Todd Hayes, the man behind such singular and distinct works as "Safe," "Velvet Goldmine," "Far from Heaven" and "I'm Not There," and if you are going into it for the kind of idiosyncratic approach that has made him a favorite among cineastes, you may be a bit disappointed by the results. What he has presented is not bad per se but it is perhaps the first entry in his entire filmography that I could easily imagine being made by a dozen other filmmakers with no discernible difference. This is most apparent in the nondescript way that he presents Bilott's loving but long-suffering wife played by Anne Hathaway---considering the number of well-rounded female characters he has presented over the years, the flat, two-dimensional portrayal of her as little more than a scold is just strange. "Dark Waters" is well-meaning and reasonably well-made and I suppose that it is worth seeing but considering the pedigree of the filmmaker behind it, I have to admit that I did come away from it feeling a little disappointed that it didnít offer up something more.

Considering the fact that her film career to date has consisted entirely of roles in the dumb girls-gone-wild indie "Never Goin Back" and the loathsome and thankfully forgotten remake of "Death Wish," it would not be unfair to say that Camila Morrone is currently best known for her work as a fashion model and for dating Leonardo Dicaprio. With the release of her latest film, the indie drama "Mickey and the Bear," those days should be numbered because she is simply fantastic in a film that, in a perfect world, should do for her what the thematically similar "Winter's Bone" did for the career of Jennifer Lawrence a few years ago. She plays Mickey, who has just turned 18 and has already seen way too much ugliness in her young life growing up in the small town of Anaconda, Montana. With her mother having died a few years earlier, she has been the one to take care of her father, Hank (James Badge Dale), an Iraq vet suffering from PTSD and an increasing dependence on opioids who can't hold a job or take care of himself, let alone his daughter. Although Mickey years to leave to go to school in San Diego rather than stay around and get knocked up by her jerk boyfriend, it is not until she gets encouragement from a sympathetic VA counsellor (Rebecca Henderson) and the new kid in town, aspiring musician Wyatt (Calvin Demba), that she begins to seriously consider setting off. Of course, this would mean leaving Hank behind and they both know that he is likely to spin completely out of control without her around, leading to an unavoidable confrontation between the two over a living situation that should never have developed in the first place.

For anyone who has seen more than their fair share of overly earnest low-budget indie dramas over the years, "Mickey and the Bear" may not seem blazingly original on the surface. However, debuting writer-director Annabelle Attansio presents the material in a way that leans more towards nuance and detail than broad melodramatics, avoids most of the expected plot developments (the handing of the stuff involving the lout boyfriend is especially refreshing) and is not afraid to steer the narrative to darker and more potentially disturbing areas. She also takes pains to not paint her central characters in completely black-and-white terms--Hank is a self-centered screw-up who clearly loves his daughter but has grown far too dependent on her and her willingness to care for him while Mickey, while a loving daughter who will do practically anything for her father, has her own array of problems that she does not always deal with in the smartest and most mature manner either. As Hank, Dale is excellent at portraying someone alternately terrifying and pitiable who loves his daughter but who is mired so deeply in his own physical and emotional problems that he is incapable of doing anything for her other than drag her with him in his extended spiral to the bottom. Of course, Dale has been a more-than-reliable supporting player for years and so his work is not that much of a surprise. What is startling is that Morrone is just as good, if not better as Mickey. She inhabits the role with such a startling degree of authenticity that if you didn't already know who she was, you might just assume that she was an actual small-town Montana girl that Attansio discovered and built a screenplay around. Her work makes for one of the best performances of the year and if her career takes off in the way that it clearly deserves to, "Mickey and the Bear" will clearly go down as the first clear highpoint.


link directly to this feature at https://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=4201
originally posted: 11/30/19 02:37:51
last updated: 11/30/19 02:44:32
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