Shadow
Stillwater

Stillwater

Synopsis:
A father travels from Oklahoma to France to help his estranged daughter, who is in prison for a murder she claims she didn’t commit.

An Oklahoma oil worker travels to France to help his imprisoned daughter in . Bill Baker () is a roughneck oil driller from the town of Stillwater, Oklahoma, who travels to Marseille, France to visit his daughter Allison (), who has been in prison for the last five years for the murder of her girlfriend. During his visit, Allison gives her father a letter to give to the judge, the contents of which turn out to be a last-ditch effort by Allison to restart the investigation and find the man Allison believes to be the real killer. When the judge refuses to help, Bill takes it upon himself to investigate, with the help of local woman Virginie (), who Bill met at the hotel he was staying at.

Stillwater is a drama by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Tom McCarthy (Spotlight), starring Matt Damon as a desperate father trying to help his daughter imprisoned for a murder she claims she didn't commit. As the plot progresses, we learn the details of Allison's backstory, where she began dating an Arab girl named Lina while attending school in Marseille, with Lina turning up dead in their apartment and Allison being imprisoned after a reported sensationalized trial. While in Marseille to visit her, Bill, who never had that close a relationship with Allison, decides to take it upon himself to prove her innocence, utilizing the help of Virginie, whom Bill befriends while in Marseille.

With a plot that is reportedly very loosely inspired by the true-life case of Amanda Knox, herself the subject of a 2016 documentaryStillwater ends up being a quite melodramatic film that can't seem to decide whether it wants to be a father-daughter drama, a crime-thriller, or somewhere in between. Matt Damon, looking the most grizzled he has ever looked, seems to exemplify MAGA America in his lead performance as Bill Baker, who attributes the imprisonment of his daughter Allison to “fake news scumbags.” However, in deciding to take matters into his own hands, Bill risks making things worse and further damaging his already precarious relationship with Allison.

Given how relatively straightforward the story of the film is, there is no real reason why Tom McCarthy had to stretch the length of Stillwater to 2h18m. Part of this runtime includes a four-month time jump mid-film, where Bill has actually started living with Virginie and her young daughter Maya, in an effort to stay close to Allison, despite the latter estrangement with Bill. Then there is the somewhat convoluted third act of Stillwater, which ups the thriller quotient and includes a reveal that completely reframes the film that we spent over two hours watching.

Given Tom McCarthy's past success with Spotlight, there is a real missed opportunity of Stillwater not digging further into the sociopolitical undercurrent of a case that involves a young American woman imprisoned in France for the murder of an Arab girl. Instead, it's an overlong and very drab drama that will just leave you feeling depressed by the end.

Stillwater opens on Friday, July 30, 2021


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Sean Patrick Kelly
Sean Patrick Kelly
Sean Patrick Kelly is a freelance film critic and blogger based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
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