Stillwater Is a Difficult, Curious Film About Havoc Wreaked By Americans Abroad

What an odd factor, to take a seat in a theater in France and watch an American film about France. Although, I’m unsure that Stillwater—the brand new movie from Highlight director Tom McCarthy, which premiered right here at Cannes on Thursday—is definitely about France. Relatively, it considerations the way in which that People, or possibly simply America itself, behaves overseas. From one vantage level, Stillwater could be a sentimental and lurid riff on the notorious Amanda Knox case. However I feel McCarthy has one thing larger in thoughts, which he pokes at intriguingly all through his film’s appreciable sprawl.

Knox grew to become notorious when she was arrested, charged, and convicted for the homicide of a fellow college scholar whereas finding out overseas in Italy. (She was later exonerated and despatched dwelling to the States, however questions on her guilt or innocence have endured within the years since.) McCarthy shifts that motion to Marseilles and begins long gone the trial, when twenty-something Allison (Abigail Breslin) has been imprisoned for 5 years. Her once-estranged ne’er do nicely father, Billy (Matt Damon), frequently travels from rural Oklahoma to go to her. The main points of Allison’s particular case are progressively defined to us, a murky night time of violence that left Allison’s girlfriend, who was Arab, lifeless, and a mysterious second suspect within the wind.

Stillwater delves, each straight and not directly, into the fraught racial politics of up to date France, as new data within the case leads Billy right into a housing challenge largely dwelling to Black and Arab individuals pushed into the margins of French society and fairly often unfairly focused by police. In these scenes, the movie treads dangerously near a hoary cinematic type: communities of shade used as unique, menacing backdrop for white heroics. I feel McCarthy is conscious of that, although, and is utilizing a foul, drained construction to show the commentary again on Billy and Allison—and on their nation.

There’s a lengthy interruption within the investigation a part of the movie, as Billy finds himself improbably ensconced with two locals—mother Virgine (Camille Cottin) and her younger daughter, Maya (Lilou Slauvaud)—and begins to construct a brand new comfortable life for himself. This stretch of the movie is sort of its personal film, a candy, lo-fi take a look at household discovered and chosen. Damon has a profitable rapport with Cottin and Slauvaud, who each give shiny, winsome performances. How did we find yourself on this comfortable place when what we embarked upon was a fictionalized Amanda Knox film?

That is likely one of the unusual questions on the coronary heart of Stillwater, a novelistic film that ultimately binds its disparate threads and tones into one thing surprisingly resonant. The candy mendacity subsequent to the sinister (and intertwined with it) is the distinction McCarthy is making an attempt for, I feel, to lull us into a comfy complacency earlier than reminding us who these individuals characterize, what havoc American intrusion can wreak even when—maybe particularly when—it’s claiming good intentions.  

When violence reenters the image, it’s a plot flip that’s, on its face, ridiculous. Which stands out as the level, a soapy climax meant to echo actual calamity, adventurism that’s nearly absurd in its recklessness. As soon as the sunniness of the center part of the movie is gone, Stillwater collapses right into a bleak conclusion, McCarthy closing his movie as bluntly and hauntingly because the Coen brothers ended No Nation for Previous Males. Stillwater actually doesn’t examine to that masterpiece, but it surely nonetheless startles, teasing that this entire factor might have been a grand allegory all alongside.

Damon is a compelling presence all through, clamming himself up into “sure ma’am” laconicism however nonetheless palpably suggesting the storm lurking beneath Billy’s frayed cap and baseball pitcher’s sun shades. He by no means calls for our sympathy nor courts our suspicion. It’s an unfussy efficiency, regardless of the goatee and Oklahoma twang and good-old-boy roughness. McCarthy is, as ever, good along with his actors, serving to them discover the fitting measure of restraint and cinematic beam.

The movie can be out within the States later this month, the place I’d think about it is going to be obtained varyingly. It’s not the dutiful, leering re-creation of a sensational case that some would possibly hope for, and is filled with pointy, typically discordant concepts and particulars that make it onerous to categorize. It’s reasonably exceptional {that a} huge Hollywood studio is releasing this troublesome, curious movie. I hope individuals give its heady mixture of melodrama and political allusion an opportunity. As a result of Stillwater does—I’ve to say it—run deep.

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