Stillwater Review: An American Redneck in Marseille


As a whole, Stillwater is a rather strange film. It has the premise of an action thriller, but it looks for the pedigree and tone of a prestige drama. To give you an idea, Stillwater follows Bill Baker (Matt Damon), a hard-working Oklahoman roughneck struggling to make ends meet. Bill travels to France because his daughter, Allison (Abigail Breslin), is serving jail time for committing a crime that she supposedly didn’t commit. Along the way, Bill meets Virginie (Camille Cottin) and her daughter, Maya (Lilou Siauvaud). As the three form a bond, Bill looks to find the one responsible for the murder Allison is accused of.

Stillwater is inspired by the real-life Amanda Knox case. In case you didn’t know, Amanda Knox was an American who was sent to prison for a murder she didn’t commit. Almost four years later, she was exonerated after evidence proved she was innocent. Only this time, Stillwater is in France instead of Italy.

Stillwater brought together two French writers, Thomas Bidegain and Noé Debré, and two American ones, Tom McCarthy and Marcus Hinchey, to piece together the script. As Bill navigates these two massively divergent cultures, the French and American writers are what ultimately makes this fish-out-of-water storyline work. 

Yet, it isn’t the only storyline in this movie. There’s a father-daughter tale, a legal thriller, a vigilante justice piece, and a romantic dramedy, all spread out across a lengthy runtime. The good news is that this mixture of storylines leaves no shortage of compelling material. Unfortunately, this also means that the film consistently trips over itself as it switches from one plot to another.

Stillwater is a film with so many layers. In the hands of any other director, the movie would’ve easily fallen apart. Yet, the deft hands of Tom McCarthy keep things together relatively well.

Nevertheless, the “Amanda Knox” side of the plotline looms heavy over the entire picture. The setup is easy to adapt because the original Knox story was so compelling already. However, the film does take massive liberty with the story. With a staggeringly unrealistic turn of events, the realism and gravity are tossed aside as the final act unfolds.

Of course, Stillwater is setting up Bill and Allison as impulsive people with poor judgment. However, the sizable number of writers could have written it subtly instead of forcing it. For all McCarthy’s strengths, he isn’t capable of illustrating an improbable plot development like this. Despite his ability to mess things up, you still root for someone like Bill. This is a positive mark for the script, but the movie still leaves much to be desired.

Thus, you have to think of Stillwater as a performance piece. The picture allows Matt Damon to showcase his talents in this meaningful dramatic role. He completely transforms into this failed father figure searching for redemption. At the same time, Camille Cottin gives the type of nuanced humanistic performance that perfectly juxtaposes Bill’s stiff, roughneck personality. Unfortunately, Abigail Breslin gets the worst out of it all. Yes, she does a stellar job with the material, but there isn’t a lot for her to do. She’s the heart and soul of the entire picture, but she’s more of a supporting character than one of the core ones.

Overall, Stillwater is a film with so many layers. In the hands of any other director, the movie would’ve easily fallen apart. Yet, the deft hands of Tom McCarthy keep things together relatively well. Of course, it helps when the performance of the cast is off-the-charts.

Rating: 3.5/5 atoms

Stillwater hits theaters on July 30th.

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