★★★½ - STUFF
- Matt Damon goes full MAGA in drama that might just get him an Oscar -
In the French city of Marseilles, a young American woman languishes in prison.
She has been convicted of murder, even though the evidence against her was circumstantial, and she has maintained her innocence.
Her Dad, a sporadically employed oil-rig roughneck, with a history of alcohol and drug abuse behind him, visits whenever he can, for a week or two.
But, on this visit, something has changed. Allison – the daughter – tells Bill, her Dad, that she has a new lead. A man she has never met has been overheard claiming he has met the real killer – and Allison has a handwritten note to attest to that. Allison asks Bill to give the note to her lawyer and to ask her to restart the investigation.
Of course, it is hopeless. We sense that even Bill knows this and the lawyer only confirms it. But he, with the misguided impulse that only a parent could have, refuses to crush his daughter's hopes. And so Bill sets out to follow the clues himself.
Put like that, you might be fearing that Stillwater is about to turn into “Matt Damon-does-Taken. For Damon, who plays Bill, has more of a history as righteous men roused to vengeance, than he does as fairly hopeless men alone, trying and failing to assert their will on the melting pot of cultures, languages and histories that is France.
But, that is where this film takes us. Damon's Bill is a blunt, incurious cypher of American indifference to the obvious truth – that the rest of the world isn't always convinced the American way of doing things is the right way. And yet, director Tom McCarthy (Spotlight) and his two French co-writers are not unsympathetic to this man.
While Bill might be only one MAGA hat away from a parody of mid-west American manhood, McCarthy and Damon still keep him well on the side of the angels. We invest in Bill, we wish him well, and we wince as life deals him another blow.
Hollywood hasn't had much time or empathy for the illiberal, white American male these last few years, but Stillwater might help to balance the ledger a little.
Stillwater is a curious film. Although it is clearly inspired by the Amanda Knox case – in which a young American woman was wrongly convicted of murder by an Italian court – the resemblances are really only surface deep. Although, if anyone leaves the cinema thinking that Allison's character is similar to Knox, then the filmmakers truly do owe Knox a grovelling apology.
Stillwater might very well get Damon an overdue “Best Actor” Oscar, while Abigail Breslin and Camille Cottin (Call My Agent!) are more than fine, as Allison, and Bill's unlikely new love, respectively.
This film rambles, detours into sweetness, sets up a lurid last third and still never becomes the film you might expect. Stillwater is a portrait of stolid, uncertain and ambiguous people, ironically adrift in a storm.
Stillwater is now playing at Light House Petone and Cuba!
- Graeme Tuckett, STUFF