Saturday, July 31

Stillwater Review: Amanda Knox’s Fictional Drama Is So Bad It’s Bad | Cannes 2021

Tom McCarthy is the director who gifted us with the Oscar-winning film Spotlight, estimable. But this is one to forget: a confusing drama, tonally misjudged, badly acted, directed with uncertainty and downright dubious, something that falls into the stand of so bad it’s bad. It is heavily inspired by the case of Amanda Knox, the young American who was acquitted after spending four years in an Italian prison following the 2007 murder of her roommate in Perugia, British exchange student Meredith Kercher. This film creates a quasi-Knox fictional figure and fatuously condemns this made-up character of a certain confusing misdeed that the real Amanda Knox may very well feel should not be tainted.

The action moves to Marseille in France. Abigail Breslin plays Allison Baker, a young woman from Stillwater, Oklahoma, a visiting American student who has been convicted of murdering her lover and is now serving time in prison there. Matt Damon plays Allison’s father, Bill, a construction worker. He comes to Marseille (presumably on a tourist visa, although he seems to be staying indefinitely, doing construction work). But now he’s consumed by the need to solve the case, prove his daughter’s innocence, and catch the guy who actually did it.

And while he’s there, Bill, an all-American, home-loving boy who prays and says thank you, but is also supposed to be a “shit,” embarks on one of the most unlikely relationships in movie history, beginning a romance with a local stage actress and single mother Virginie (Camille Cottin). This character is very important in the mediation between Bill and the locals, acting as his interpreter and also as his lover. His little daughter absolutely adores Bill. But he and Virginie don’t really look good together; Even in their supposedly most intimate moments, Damon and Cottin appear to have been featured at a Los Angeles party and have nothing in common.

Damon is in a terrible bind in this movie. Of course, he has to be understanding, he has to be Matt Damon, and the movie will not allow him to be anything else. But it’s also important that he’s a bit of a loser, that his daughter doesn’t trust him, as well as that he explains his extraordinarily reckless acts of violence, which the movie never really acknowledges. He just seems to be a good, impassive guy who wears a cap at all times and shows up faithfully to prison visits.

At a football match in Marseille, Bill catches a glimpse of the young man widely suspected of the murder for which his daughter has been convicted and embarks on an inexplicable act of vigilantism. Wow! No matter how this terrible movie cuts it, this is something very creepy, Lecter-style, for Damon, and the drama has no way of accepting it.

And another strange note comes with a scene where Allison is supposed to have attempted suicide in prison, apparently to assure us that she is suffering too. But this unfortunate event is simply forgotten: there is not a scene where Bill and Allison discuss it. Lost in editing? It’s really weird.

There are some good people in this terrible movie whose talents have been wasted. And the only thing you can do now is forget everything.

Stillwater screened at the Cannes film festival on July 8. It will launch on July 29 in Australia, July 30 in the US, and August 6 in the UK.

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