Matt Damon fights for his daughter in Stillwater, an unusual drama from the director of Spotlight

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The A.V. Club 28 July, 2021 - 01:36pm 53 views

Is Stillwater based on a true story?

Director and writer Tom McCarthy says he was influenced by the real life story of Amanda Knox, an American college student who was accused of and cleared in the murder of a roommate in Italy. But “Stillwater” has its own unique twists and turns. Here And NowMatt Damon Upsets Expectations In New Film 'Stillwater'

The story has sensationalistic roots; it’s vaguely inspired by the case of Amanda Knox, an American exchange student living in Italy who was convicted of murdering her roommate, spent four years in prison, and was later acquitted. Stillwater joins a similar situation already in progress. Allison (Abigail Breslin) is serving out a sentence in France for the murder of her girlfriend, the implied media circus surrounding her trial has faded, and her father, Bill (Matt Damon), clearly has a routine going. He checks into a Best Western in Marseille for two-week stints, eats primarily at American-based fast-food outlets, and despite having clearly spent a substantial amount of time in France, steadfastly speaks to everyone in English. His frequent use of “ma’am” sounds especially deliberate, announcing himself as both a faux-humble gentleman and someone who refuses to use a single word of French.

Matt Damon, Camille Cottin, Abigail Breslin, Lilou Siauvaud, Deanna Dunagan

Yet Stillwater is not some Taken-style fantasy in which Hollywood liberal Matt Damon dresses in red-state drag to mete out American justice. By chance, Bill gains a translator in Virginie (Camille Cottin), an actress also staying at the hotel while she prepares to move into a new apartment with her young daughter, Maya (Lilou Siauvaud). Bill takes a gentle shine to Maya, and that’s where McCarthy’s humanistic instincts go into overdrive. What has been a downbeat amateur-detective thriller becomes a sweet-natured character study about a stereotypically Ugly American adapting to an unexpected new home life.

The game stretches well past the two-hour mark. This isn’t McCarthy’s tightest film, nor is it a successor to Spotlight in terms of invigorating, fact-based filmmaking. (To re-emphasize: Amanda Knox really is just a jumping-off point.) It may, however, be his knottiest and most complicated. Early on, the film undermines expectations of a dad heroically fighting the odds for his child—and then, as Bill, Virginie, and Maya come to better understand each other, manages to create a whole new set of expectations to subvert. It’s the first time McCarthy has made such prickly use of his talent for summoning audience sympathy, allowing Bill’s regrets about his parental shortcomings to resonate through his every decision. It’s as if the filmmaker is poking at his past faith in the modest American loneliness of his characters, wondering if maybe they were too good to be true.

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