Movie Review: Stillwater

Matt Damon delivers a stellar performance as oil-rig roughneck Bill Baker in this riveting drama loosely based on the infamous Amanda Knox case. To recap, an American student abroad in Italy was convicted for the murder of her roommate.

In Stillwater, the setting is Marseille, France, and the accused is college-aged Allison (Abigail Breslin), Bill’s daughter. Allison has already served five years of her nine-year prison sentence for her roommate’s murder but now has new evidence that could lead to the reopening of the case. According to Allison’s former professor, a young Arab man (Akim) has boasted about getting away with murder.

Convinced of his daughter’s innocence, Bill takes matters into his own hands after the defense lawyer dismisses the new evidence as hearsay. An uphill battle from the start, Bill faces language barriers, cultural differences, and the intricacies of the French legal system. Often frustrated but undeterred, Bill seeks out detectives, talks to witnesses and chases down suspects, all in the hope of finding the elusive Akim (Idir Azougli).

Thankfully, he is not alone during this quest.

Local theatre actor Virginie (Camille Cottin) and her adorable nine-year-old daughter Maya (Lilou Siauvaud) provide much-needed language assistance and emotional support to the God-fearing, gun-loving American who is clearly out of his comfort zone.

As the relationship deepens between Bill and Virginie, there are hints of a happily-for-now ending. Bill secures employment as a construction worker, spends quality time with Maya, and slowly reveals his vulnerabilies. Beneath the baseball cap, plaid shirts, and bushy goatee lies a tortured soul yearning for acceptance and redemption. Had the film focused on this dynamic or ended fifty minutes earlier, it could have been labeled a mid-life romantic drama.

Director Tom McCarthy had a different ending in mind.

The third act veers into dark, unexpected terrain. A chance encounter releases past demons, enabling Bill’s self-destructive streak to rear its ugly head. Poor decision-making and reckless actions follow, endangering the lives of Virginie and Maya. A startling revelation touches Bill at his very core, forcing him to re-examine what he holds most dear.

A must-see film that will linger in consciousness!

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