One of the biggest head-scratchers at this year’s Cannes is Tom McCarthy’s Stillwater, starring Matt Damon. The actor plays Bill Baker, an Oklahoma oil rigger who prays before every meal, and dons a goatee and baseball cap that make him almost unrecognisable. The feature starts with the protagonist flying to Marseilles to see his daughter Alison (Abigail Breslin), who is only mentioned when Bill and his mother-in-law ask the Lord to keep a watch on her. We find out she really does need some guidance as she has spent the past five years in a Marseille prison after being accused and found guilty of murdering her French girlfriend whilst on a college-exchange. On this particular trip, her father decides to take matters into his own hands after a new lead comes forward. He is determined to find Akim, a young man from one of the Marseille projects who they believe is the real killer.
Bill befriends a French single mother, Virginie (Camille Cottin of Call My Agent), and her young daughter Maya (Lilou Siauvaud). With the American having no French and absolutely no intention of learning it, Virginie becomes his translator and later landlord when he stays in Marseille full time. There is undeniable chemistry within the trio, particularly when it comes to Damon and Siauvaud. As Bill and Maya go about their day – her teaching him French words, him bringing her to football games – they formulate a tangible relationship between two people who couldn’t be more different. Cottin is the central light of the film and without her, it’d be a much drabber affair. Her presence is both subtle and electric, always breathing life into a scene and counteracting the hopelessness of Bill and Allison’s story.
It has to be said that the feature feels as if it was pulled straight out of Amanda Knox’s life, and consequently is not the most original take. It could have been half an hour shorter and there are a lot of xenophobic anti-European undertones as well as less subtle racism targeted at Arab people. The work tries to address the fact that that the US also have their issues when one French woman asks Bill if he voted for Trump, but it doesn’t make up for the fact that this is another example of “America against the world”. However, the worst thing to come from this movie is the realisation that Breslin may have left some of her talent along with her childhood. There are scenes that require a lot of control and emotion from her and she doesn’t deliver, reminding the audience that they’re watching a film and disrupting their engagment in the story.
Stillwater is an uneven copy of one of the most famous news stories in recent years, making it overstretched and ultimately unoriginal.
Stillwater is released nationwide on 6th August 2021.
Read more reviews from our Cannes Film Festival 2021 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Cannes Film Festival website here.
Watch a clip from Stillwater here: