Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Bill Baker (Matt Damon) is an oil worker from Stillwater, Oklahoma. He periodically travels to the port city of Marseille in France to visit his estranged daughter. Allison (Abigail Breslin) has been serving a prison sentence for the past four years. While attending university, she was charged with killing her roommate and lover for being unfaithful. Allison maintains she is innocent. She has recently learned from Patrick (William Nadylam) – a professor at the university – that a student in his outreach program overheard a man brag at a party about stabbing someone and getting away with it. In a detailed letter that she gives to her dad, Allison pleads for her lawyer Maitre Leparq (Anna Le Ny) to reopen the case. Leparq deems it hearsay and refuses. Unbeknownst to Allison, her father decides to investigate himself.

Stillwater is best appreciated as a character study. As such, it features a handful of good performances. I begin with Abigail Breslin as Allison Baker. Bill’s daughter is in jail for most of the picture. She only appears in a few key discussions during her father’s visits. Though the part is small, Breslin effectively conveys the dependence on but also alienation from her dad. Matt Damon is the blue-collar Bill. He sports a thick goatee and a tattoo of an eagle-clutched skull, but he also prays before every meal. He’s a doughy monolith dressed in plaid and always wearing a baseball cap. He rarely smiles. The misguided marketing even highlights this generic image on the poster.

Damon’s stoic mood is a choice. While it may embody an authentic person, it isn’t particularly charismatic. This is the same actor who played the sociopathic preppie in The Talented Mr. Ripley. It is a stretch given how different it is. Conversely, French actress Camille Cottin is overflowing with personality. She plays Virginie, a woman staying in the hotel room next to his in France. The woman would seem to be an unlikely ally. “Did you vote for Trump?” her friend Nedjma (Naidra Ayadi) suspiciously asks him one point. Virginie also has a young daughter Maya (Lilou Siauvaud) who is a memorable presence as well. Virginie agrees to help him in his quest.,

The accomplished filmmaker Tom McCarthy gave us the prestigious Best Picture winner Spotlight. The director of Stillwater himself has acknowledged that the screenplay — which he co-wrote with Marcus Hinchey, Thomas Bidegain, and Noé Debré — was inspired by the real-life Amanda Knox trial. To further emphasize that point, there was an American woman who spent time in a foreign prison. However, the developments and characters are all invented. To explain how it diverges would be to spoil what happens. I only mention these facts to emphasize this is not “The Amanda Knox Story.” The coverage of the movie has implied it contains more facts without acknowledging the major distinctions. It’s a work of fiction.

A father will do anything to prove his daughter’s innocence. That concept is the inertia that propels the account. Bill’s crusade is fascinating. Yet the narrative is a lot of other things. It’s a character study, a murder mystery, a father/daughter drama, a fish out of water tale, and even a romance. That last development occurs at a moment where the chronicle already had a clear direction. Then it exasperatingly goes off the rails before returning to the matter at hand. Stillwater is a patience-testing 2 hours 20 minutes. It’s easy to see where a half-hour could have been excised to present a more focused and powerful saga. I’ve always maintained the screenwriter plays the most important role in a film. Stillwater makes me question that idea. Some judicious editing could have made this great.


2 Responses to “Stillwater”

  1. This was pretty good. I liked all the side characters more than Matt’s role. I know he was asked to be stoic, but give me a little personality. I thought, halfway through, I was watching a different movie. Could’ve removed a half hour, like you said. 3 1/2 ⭐️


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