Stillwater, Beneath the weathered baseball cap and bushy goatee, the parade of plaid shirts, and the well-mannered replies of “Sure, ma’am,” there’s a complete lot extra to Invoice Baker. Certain, he listens to the old-school nation in his pickup truck whereas driving between handbook labor gigs, and he by no means fails to wish earlier than a meal, even when it’s tater tots and a cherry limeade from Sonic. It appears completely pure to him to maintain a few weapons in his run-down Oklahoma house, and he by no means misses a possibility to look at his favorite faculty soccer workforce.
However there’s one thing simmering inside this assortment of red-state stereotypes, and “Stillwater” is at its finest when it explores these complexities and contradictions. Beefed-up and sad-eyed, Matt Damon brings nice subtlety and pathos to the position, particularly when he cracks his stoic character open ever so gently and permits heat, vulnerability, and even hope to shine by way of on his highway to redemption. However Invoice’s story of hard-earned second probabilities is one in every of many tales director Tom McCarthy is telling in “Stillwater,” and whereas it’s essentially the most compelling, it additionally will get swallowed up virtually totally through the movie’s insane third act.
The script, which McCarthy co-wrote with Thomas Bidegain, Marcus Hinchey, and Noe Debre, loosely takes its inspiration from the case of Amanda Knox, the American faculty pupil convicted in 2007 of killing her roommate whereas finding out overseas in Italy. Eight years later, Knox was acquitted. “Stillwater” strikes the motion to the French port metropolis of Marseilles and introduces us to Invoice’s daughter, Allison (Abigail Breslin), after she’s already served 5 years of a nine-year jail sentence for the homicide of her lover, a younger Muslim girl.
Allison insists she’s harmless; Invoice resolutely believes her. And so “Stillwater” can be the story of a father and daughter making an attempt to fix their strained relationship as he makes frequent visits to talk and do her laundry and she or he pretends to care as he prattles on about Oklahoma State soccer. (The school campus is in—that’s proper—Stillwater, Invoice, and Allison’s hometown. However as you’ve most likely guessed by now, the title refers to our hero’s demeanor, as properly.) “Life is brutal,” every one of them says at one level, and one of many extra intriguing components of “Stillwater” is the notion that being a screw-up is hereditary, which pushes towards its feel-good, Hollywood-ending urges.
However wait, there’s extra—a lot extra. As a result of the first driving narrative right here is the likelihood that Allison can show her innocence based mostly on jailhouse rumor about an elusive, younger Arab man. Right here, “Stillwater” turns into a procedural harking back to McCarthy’s Oscar best-picture winner “Spotlight,” as Invoice knocks on doorways and follows one lead after another, speaking to individuals who both assist him or don’t in his efforts to exonerate his solely baby. In this vein, it’s additionally concerning the racial tensions and socioeconomic disparities that exist in each France and America, and the blindly assured swagger with which some People carry themselves abroad—even somebody like Invoice who’s, to borrow from the Tim McGraw tune, humble and type.
And for an enormous chunk of its midsection, it’s a few middle-aged men forming a sudden friendship—after which a makeshift household—with a single mother and her little woman. Virginie (a vibrant and charismatic Camille Cottin) and her daughter, Maya (a lovable and steely Lilou Siauvaud), give the widowed Invoice a shot at righting the wrongs of his previous. Virginie and Invoice initially join when she affords to assist him in his investigation by making calls, translating, and customarily serving as his information by way of a historic metropolis he’s barely gotten to know. The connection makes zero sense on paper—she’s a bohemian actress, he’s an oil-rig employee—however the small kindnesses they present one another permits them to forge a bond, and permit Invoice to disclose extra about himself and his tortured historical past, piece by piece. It sounds tacky, however surprisingly, it really works.
That is far and away from the strongest part of “Stillwater,” and if nearly all of this movie had targeted this understated dynamic and the quiet hope of higher days to come back, it might have been greater than satisfying. The performances listed below are beautiful, and Damon enjoys distinctly candy connections with each Cottin and Siauvaud. However, then it takes a major flip into darker territory towards the tip, with twists predicated on main coincidences and reckless selections. “Stillwater” additionally turns into a far much less attention-grabbing movie because it slogs by way of its overlong working time. Whereas it’s fascinating to think about Invoice’s self-destructive streak rearing its head as soon as once more, even after it appears he’s lastly discovered some peace, the way in which it performs out is so wild and implausible, it feels prefer it was ripped from a completely totally different film and grafted on right here. Inside this eventful stretch, there’s additionally a suicide try that’s tossed in virtually as a baffling afterthought because it’s by no means talked about once more.
Finally, the cacophony of all these plots strains to converge and the load of the messaging being conveyed is sort of an excessive amount of to bear. Particulars get spelled out and characters clarify their motivations when sustaining a total charisma would have been far more practical. Whether or not or not Allison is responsible isn’t the purpose; having fun with a second of stillness and solitude within the afternoon sunshine is, even when it is fleeting.
Now enjoying in theaters.