“Stillwater,” the new Matt Damon movie now playing in theatres, uses the bones of American exchange student Amanda Knox’s story as a starting point to tell a story of a father determined to prove his daughter’s innocence.
Damon embraces the role of Oklahoma oil rigger Bill Baker, a MAGA man whose wraparound shades are almost a character of their own. He’s rough ‘n’ tumble, prays before every meal and spends every dime he makes visiting his daughter Allison (Abigail Breslin) in prison in Marseille, France. She’s serving a nine-year sentence for the murder of her lover; a crime she says she didn’t commit.
Allison usually treats him with casual offhandedness—he wasn’t around much when she was a kid, and when he was, he was drunk—but this time is different. She hands him a letter, written in French, which he does not understand, with new evidence that she hopes will exonerate her.
When their Marseille-based lawyer tells Bill the letter and the new info is not enough to get a new trial, he launches his own investigation. Serving as translator is Virginie (Camille Cottin), who, along with her young daughter Maya (Lilou Siauvad), help him make his way through Marseille and provide the closest thing to a family he has known since his daughter went to jail.
“Refugees, zero waste,” says Virginie’s friend of Bill, “he’s your new cause.”
“Stillwater” is two-thirds of a good movie. The screenplay, co-written by director Tom McCarthy with Marcus Hinchey, Thomas Bidegain and Noé Debré, darts back-and-forth, shifting focus between the various storylines. In the film’s first hour or so, the story skews toward Allison, Bill’s bumbling investigation into the new evidence and his burgeoning relationship with Virginie and Maya. But just as the story should heat up and head toward thriller territory, McCarthy suddenly veers away from Allison’s predicament. Abruptly, “Stillwater” becomes more interested in a presenting a character study of Bill, a man of few words and even fewer motivations. Damon is compellingly watchable in the role, giving Bill a deep inner life that isn’t always apparent on the surface—I guess still waters really do run deep—but the film feels sidetracked by the diversion.
“Stillwater” is wonderfully shot and the father-daughter relationship that develops between Bill and Maya is touching and authentic feeling but is let down in the film’s final act.