Stillwater - Movie Review

A Huge Hit at the Cannes Film Festival
Stillwater, gaining Oscar Buzz
Stillwater, gaining Oscar Buzz(Focus Features)
Published: Aug. 12, 2021 at 3:29 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 12, 2021 at 3:36 PM EDT
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Stillwater, starring Matt Damon received a five-minute standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. Directed by Oscar winner Tom McCarthy (Spotlight) with a screenplay credited to four writers, Stillwater was inspired by the real-life Amanda Knox story. Damon plays Bill, a blue-collar Dad from Oklahoma, whose daughter, Allison (Oscar nominee Abigail Breslin) is incarcerated in a French prison for murdering her lover, and roommate. Allison swears she is innocent, and she has indeed been convicted on flimsy evidence and seems to be a victim of a foreign country’s corrupt justice system.

Bill travels to Marseilles to visit his daughter and oversee the progress of her defense and appeal. There he meets a single mother, Virginie, (Camille Cottin) and her adorable daughter Maya (Lilou Siauvaud). At first Virginie is just a translator for Bill, but eventually they grow closer as Bill becomes a surrogate father for Maya. Bill helps out around the house and looks after Maya when Virginie is at work; she’s an actress. Maya and Bill’s bond is heartwarming and feels authentic. Siauvaud is great child actor who has terrific chemistry with Damon. Cottin is a is also very good, she stars in one of my favorite Netflix’s, series, “Call My Agent” (in French with English subtitles.)

Bill’s relationship with Maya is redemption for his horrible parenting while Allison was growing up. He was an alcoholic, absent father. This is only part of the reason why Allison is an angry, bitter adult. Her mother committed suicide and it’s clear she has a history of bad life choices. The apple doesn’t fall from the tree, and Allison’s demeaner and behavior don’t enhance her claims of innocence at all. On the contrary, she might have committed the crime. But Bill is convinced of her innocence, and he gets a job working locally, so he can stay in Marseilles longer and help locate another suspect, that Allison believes is the real killer.

The film works best when it addresses themes of redemption, the inability to change, familial fate and how bad decisions haunt some people forever. The most interesting parts of the story are often unsaid. They are surmised from subtext and grow deeper as the audience learns more and more about the characters. The thriller/mystery genre is solid here, and not unclever, but it is really the plot and not the “story.”


However, the film is too long. The second act, drags, diluting the urgency and tension. Perhaps the writers were too concerned about “covering all their bases.” Although Bill’s relationship with Maya is authentic, his relationship with her mother, Virginie, feels ill-conceived, despite the fact they have plenty of screen time together. The timing seems off when they move from friends to lovers. Both characters are so damaged, it feels like they would irresponsibly jump into bed together a lot sooner, or not at all-as they really aren’t right for each other.

Still, the movie is full of good performances, is well directed and has great adult themes—oh yeah and it isn’t a superhero movie. It’s worth a look for those who are tired of franchises and sequels. It’s a good movie, however I hesitate to call it a great movie.

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