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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Aug 27, 2021



‘STILLWATER’ is a drama on Amazon Prime very loosely based on the real life story of Amanda Knox who got jailed for murder in Italy but was eventually acquitted. 

The setting is now in France and the film is actually more about the journey of a father who goes to France hoping he can help free his daughter. 

This is directed by Tom McCarthy, who also co-wrote the script. He is best known for “Spotlight” which won the Oscar best pic award and for which he won the Oscar best screenplay award. 

Bill Baker (Matt) is an oil rig worker in Stillwater, Oklahoma. When we meet him, he’s been laid off from work after a tornado hits their place. 

He’s trying to apply for a position in other companies but so far, no one has hired him.

His daughter Allison (Abigail Breslin), has been in a prison for five years in Marseille, a coastal city in the South of France fronting the Mediterranean Sea. 

She’s studying in a university there when her roommate and lover, Lina, is killed. The crime hit international headlines and most of the French press crucified her, even if she insists she’s innocent of the crime. 

When Bill visits her in prison, she secretly gives him a letter meant for her lawyer, Leparq. 

Bill gives the letter to the lawyer and it’s about the possibility of a man named Akim being Lina’s real murderer. 

Leparq says the judge will never agree to reopen the case because what Allison says is just hearsay. 

In the hotel where he stays, Bill meets a little girl in his hotel, Maya (Lilo Siauvaud), and later, also her mom, Virginie (Camille Cottin), a single mom and a theatre actress. 

He asks Virginie to translate the letter, which is in French, for him to understand its contents. 

Virginie not only does that but also volunteers to act as interpreter when he talks to the possible witnesses mentioned in the letter. 

Bill eventually tracks down Akim who lives in a notorious area occupied by unfriendly migrants.

 Despite Virginie’s warning that he is in a foreign land which has its own rules, he confronts Akim but his friends beat him up and Akim gets to escape. 

Bill comes into conflict with Allison because of his personal efforts to help her and his daughter angrily tells him to go back to America and never to see her again. 

Some months later, we see that Bill has chosen to stay in France and has even found work as a construction worker. 

He now lives with Virginie and has become Maya’s surrogate dad, forging a bond with her that he never had with Allison. 

He even fetches her in school every afternoon and teaches her to how to speak English while she teaches him how to speak French.

But things get complicated when he sees Akim in a coliseum during a football match and he does something impulsively in his desire to help his daughter. 

We’re sure what happens next is totally different from happened in real life. 

The film is not really that interested in the murder case but is more concerned about presenting the slow-burning character study of a blue collar worker whose wife killed herself and has led quite a turbulent life as an ex-con, now a reformed man who used to indulge in drug and alcohol abuse. 

His own daughter paints him as someone wired differently with an inherent character flaw, and she adds that she is just like him.

The script had four writers, two of them French, and sometimes, you get the feeling that they were writing it as shooting goes along. 

It certainly looks like it's patched together to include various elements representing an American's presence in a foreign country and his relationship with the natives. 

The film resonates with the detailed 3-dimensional portrait of a melancholy man who knows he has made a mess of his life, and tries to make an attempt at redemption. 

This is seen in the father’s determination to make up for wrong choices and past mistakes he made by helping his estranged daughter and thereby also to smooth out his own life.

Matt Damon gives a finely nuanced portrayal as Bill, digging deep into human emotions and totally immersed in his character who is also shown praying a lot. 

The film runs for more than two hours and there was a point when you think things have settled comfortably for Bill and his new family, then he spots Akim at the football match and Bill will be in for a jaw-dropping surprise about his own daughter.

The film has superb cinematography and the French-speaking actors all do well in bringing their characters to life, adding to the authentic feel of the film shot on location in France.