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USA/France 2021
Directed by
Tom McCarthy
140 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars


Tom McCarthy’s film is loosely based on the real-life story of Amanda Knox, a twenty year old American exchange student who was accused and convicted of murder in Italy in 2007.

Co-written by the director with Marcus Hinchey and French scriptwriters Thomas Bidegain ad Noé Debré, the action is transposed to Marseilles where Allison Baker (Abigail Breslin) has served five years of a nine-year prison sentence for the killing of her lover, a young Muslim woman. Her father (Matt Damon), who works as a rigger in the Oklahoma oil fields has arrived to visit his daughter and convinced that she is innocent, do whatever he can to have her exonerated.

There is a very strong chance that McCarthy and his team studied closely the films of Robert Guédiguian such as The Town Is Quiet (2000) films which are typically set in the strongly mixed racial, working class French port city of Marseilles and whose realist stories have prominent socio-political themes.  Bill Baker despite his being a typical red-neck is very much a Guédiguian protagonist, prepared to do whatever it takes to save his beloved daughter and restore their relationship.  

If the story holds our attention as Bill relentlessly searches for some clue that will confirm his daughter’s plea of innocence the film’s propulsion comes from Matt Damon’s outstanding performance as at once a tactless red-neck oblivious to the niceties of the French legal system and a god-fearing Christian seeking redemption for his mis-spent ways, in particular his wife’s suicide and the neglect of his now-adult daughter when she was a child.

This conflict fuels Bill’s actions, with McCarthy and his fellow writers giving him the chance to make reparations through his relationship with a single mother and her daughter (Camille Cottin and Lilou Siauvaud) a device that also works conveniently to help him negotiate the language barrier and Gallic hauteur.

With the real possibility of Bill attaining that redemption this aspect of the film is genuinely heart-warming with Damon and Cottin convincing in their budding romance. But then things take a darker turn. This development strains credulity somewhat both within the context of the narrative and in terms of plotting but notwithstanding, Stillwater is a commendable film with one of Damon’s most adventurous and rewarding performances.




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