Friday Film Review--"Stillwater"
Stillwater had its covid-delayed premiere at Cannes this July where it received a five-minute standing ovation. Here’s Barb Bretz with your Friday Film Review.
Directed and co-written by Tom McCarthy, who also co-wrote and directed the academy award-winning Best Picture Spotlight, I’d raised the bar for this film. It took 2 hours for a twist in the plot to hook me, but I was still less satisfied than I’d hoped to be, by the time the credits rolled.
Intrigued by the Amanda Knox story, McCarthy used the element of a female American student involved in a murder and incarcerated in a foreign country but surrounds it with total fiction. Knox, herself, has criticized the film claiming it rips off her story without consent, at the expense of her reputation.
Abigail Breslin, only 10 when she starred in breakout film Little Miss Sunshine, plays the incarcerated Allison Baker. Light-years older and much less likable, the convicted murderer is a secondary character in this story.
It is Bill Baker, Allison’s father, whom we follow from Oklahoma to the French coastal town of Marseilles. To say Bill, played by Matt Damon, is a ‘fish out of water’ is the ultimate understatement. Damon does a great job as the redneck, roughneck father, but I suspended disbelief in order to buy-in to several aspects of the story.
I knew it was Harvard-educated, cute and charismatic Matt Damon under that sweaty ball cap, beard, flannel shirt and extremely limited repartee, but Virginie, his French neighbor played by Camille Cottin, did not. I could see her beautiful little daughter, Maya, becoming attached to Bill, but not the sophisticated, liberal mom.
Cinematically, this was a film of contrasts; rural Oklahoma and the coast of France, a stoic, mid-western blue-collar worker and a free-spirited French artist. At the beginning and end of the film we glimpse bits of a rough-edged Americana, the oil rigs and trailer parks but we see that same underbelly across the ocean with the graffiti-marked buildings and immigrant ghettos of Marseilles.
“Life is brutal,” Allison says to her father the day they spend together outside her prison. Later, he repeats it back to her as they sit on the broken-down porch of his unkempt Stillwater house. In fact, both Bill and Allison have been brutal toward others in this life. When Allison cries out to her father, “What is wrong with us?” most viewers will agree, there IS something definitely wrong.
Performances by Damon, Cottin and young Lilou Siauvaud were strong and the suspense in the plot did build, but no 5 minute standing ovation from me.
Stillwater is rated R and runs 2 hours 19 minutes. For KPCW, this is Barb Bretz. See you at the movies!