Jul 30, 2021
By Kaveh Jalinous
Tom McCarthy, the director of the 2016 Academy Award winner for Best Picture, Spotlight, returns with Stillwater, a sometimes juicy, but mostly overcooked crime thriller.
The film centers around Bill Baker (Matt Damon), an oil-rig worker with a cloudy past whose daughter, Allison (Abigail Breslin), has been imprisoned in Marseille, France for murdering her college roommate. On one of his visits to Marseille to visit his daughter years into her sentence, Bill learns Allison has found new evidence in her case which could exonerate her. Allison’s lawyer refuses to do anything out of fear of giving her “false hope.” Other options are too expensive, so Bill decides to take matters into his own hands. With no knowledge of the French language or culture, he dives into the streets of Marseille to locate the man who killed his daughter’s roommate.
Stillwater’s main plot is heavily influenced by the story of Amanda Knox, an American foreign exchange student who spent four years in jail for the murder of her roommate before eventually being acquitted. The film takes many liberties with its plot to craft a twist-and-turn-filled story. It also adds a second main plotline to ramp up the drama.
The second plotline begins after Bill’s initial visit to the prison. He meets a woman in his hotel, Virginie (Camille Cottin), who helps him translate a letter from French to English. The two quickly develop a friendship. In exchange for Virginie’s assistance to help him look for answers, Bill picks her daughter up from school and uses his handyman skills to fix her apartment.
In Stillwater’s first act, the two plotlines act in harmony, converging to create a story that keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat to see how it unfolds. After an inciting event near the middle of the film, everything falls apart, and the film splits into two separate films: the crime thriller about Bill trying to free his daughter, and a familial drama about Bill getting closer with Virginie and her daughter.
Each of these storylines is entertaining to watch on its own, but at this point, they are forced together and the film begins suffering from a lack of identity. Instead of feeling like a horrifying true crime story, Stillwater plays like an inconsistent shuffle of genres.
This identity crisis only intensifies in the film’s final act, where the now-baffling story relies on half-baked twists–which, granted, are good audience fare. But it’s the unsatisfying turns that feel forced, unbelievable and tiring, ultimately leaving many plotlines inconclusive.
The best parts of Stillwater are Damon and Cottin. In his first leading role since 2019’s Ford v. Ferrari, Damon delivers levity and stability where the film does not. He sinks into his character and delivers a captivating performance. Cottin, in one of her first English-speaking roles, is also incredible. When they’re together, the film is at its most engaging even if their chemistry can’t make the familial drama work in Stillwater’s second half.
There’s a good story at the heart of Stillwater, and parts of that story seep out through the film. But, with a 140-minute runtime, it’s hard not to wonder how much of the film could have been left on the cutting room floor. (www.focusfeatures.com/stillwater)
Author rating: 5.5/10
Rate this movie
No ratings have been recorded yet.