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Stillwater Review: Lacks Emotional Punch

We follow Bill (Matt Damon) as he travels to Marseille, France to see his daughter Allison in Stillwater (Abigail Breslin). It’s not your typical visit, though, because she’s been in prison for the previous four years after being accused of murdering her roommate and unfaithful lover. Allison and Bill are estranged, but he has promised to pay her a visit and try to help her with her condition.

As intriguing as this narrative is, there is a surprising lack of character development between Bill and Allison, particularly given the fact that their relationship is meant to be estranged and complex. Aside from a few brief moments in which he sees her in prison and a couple that follow later on, we don’t learn much about their past, and the characters are rather two-dimensional. Because these characters have no depth, it’s difficult to understand why Bill has opted to devote so much time, money, and resources to assisting his daughter. Why would a man fly around the world if he was so… apathetic?

The film instead concentrates on Bill’s relationship with local lady Virginie (Camille Cottin), whom he initially convinced to help him decipher a letter handed to him by Allison. He becomes close to Virginie and her little daughter as the film develops, finally moving in with them. Instead of focusing on the immediate problem of Allison’s prison sentence, Stillwater seems to go off on a tangent about Bill’s blossoming and eventual romance with Virginie, and his father-like relationship with her daughter. We see more of these characters than we do of Allison, who is supposed to be the protagonist of this novel.

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This segue wouldn’t have been so horrible if it had been realistic, but it’s implausible once again, and there’s no chemistry between Virginie and Bill. Having said that, the way he bonds with her daughter feels more plausible, and there were some heartwarming scenes that elevated the film to some extent while also raising some questions about whether or not this was Bill “trying to be a father again” after having a difficult relationship with Allison. This is never explicitly stated, but it appears to be the case, and there were several sequences that I appreciated due of this particular concept.

Matt Damon has a long list of credits to his name, but this is not his best performance, most likely due to the lack of backstory for his character. Bill is dull and uninteresting, which isn’t ideal when you’re supposed to be following a protagonist through a difficult period in his life. He cruises through the movie, never actually developing and never exhibiting genuine feelings. It’s an odd performance that won’t go down as one of Damon’s greatest.

With a running period of 2 hours and 19 minutes, you’d think there’d be more scenes focused on Allison and the case at hand, since we spend a lot of time attempting to fill in the blanks and figure out what occurred here. Because Allison’s personality isn’t fully formed, it’s difficult to sympathize with her, making the experience somewhat perplexing. Her presence on film is nowhere near as strong or tragic as it should have been given her father’s evident willingness to risk everything to prove her innocence.

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The film’s pacing is mostly sluggish, but it’s on the point of tedium because there are a lot of scenes that don’t need to be there and should have been replaced with ones that genuinely provide information to the spectator. It’s even more disheartening that Amanda Knox wasn’t consulted on this film, given that it’s partially based on her actual experiences and her famed case, which has already been adapted numerous times. Those expecting for a thought-provoking criminal drama will be disappointed, since there is nothing to challenge the audience.

While the film is well-shot and the talent is present, it fails to hit the appropriate notes, and once the credits roll, it’s easy to feel nothing, which is not what you want from a film whose trailer promised it would be heartbreaking and case-heavy. When you consider the work director Tom McCarthy has done on films like Spotlight, The Visitor, and even Pixar’s Up, stories with heart and challenging subjects, this is a letdown. Stillwater had a lot of promise, but it didn’t quite live up to it, lacking the emotional impact that many have come to identify with McCarthy’s work over the years.

Duration: 139 min

Release:

IMDb: 6.6

Stillwater Review: Lacks Emotional Punch
Stillwater Review: Lacks Emotional Punch
Stillwater Review: Lacks Emotional Punch
Stillwater Review: Lacks Emotional Punch
Stillwater Review: Lacks Emotional Punch
Stillwater Review: Lacks Emotional Punch
Stillwater Review: Lacks Emotional Punch
Stillwater Review: Lacks Emotional Punch

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