Portland filmmaker Todd Haynes has two primary lanes: ornate melodramas and weird rock biopics. He's given us Kate Winslet crying in gold lamé; he's given us Karen Carpenter played by a literal Barbie doll. His latest, though, looks like a bit of a swerve—a chewy, based-on-a-true-story awards season title with sinister chemical companies and fiercely protective wives.
The trailer for Dark Waters (out November 22) dropped last Wednesday, and rather than recall Haynes's form-busting films like I'm Not There or Poison, it looks like a pretty straightforward eco-thriller—territory that fellow Rose City auteurs Gus Van Sant and Kelly Reichardt explored in Promised Land and Night Moves, respectively.
Mark Ruffalo, in what looks like an insane wig, plays corporate defense attorney Robert Bilott, who sued chemical giant DuPont in 2001 for contaminating water in West Virginia. Anne Hathaway, in what is definitely an insane wig, plays his wife; Victor Garber (wigless) is a sneering DuPont executive.
After back-to-back adaptations of a gay Patricia Highsmith romance and a children's book about museums, Dark Waters is a pivot toward pulp for Haynes, full of urgent strings, shadowy figures, and mysterious animal deaths. Think Erin Brockovich via The Wicker Man (DuPont is the cult) with the wig budget from The Hours. A banquet scene halfway through the trailer recalls that scene in The Witches where Anjelica Huston melts someone with her eyes.
Haynes, who ran with locals like Jon Raymond and Miranda July throughout the 2000s and still officially lives in Portland, sits on the board of the Hollywood Theatre, where he regularly appears for after-film Q&As. Thanks to former mayor Sam Adams, he also sits in City Hall. Whether he snags his first Oscar for Dark Waters is, at this point, anybody's guess, but we're in for the way Mark Ruffalo says "a huhndred and naaiinety cows" alone.