Matt Damon Seeks Some Tricky Justice in ‘Stillwater’

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Stillwater (CREDIT: Jessica Forde/Focus Features)

Starring: Matt Damon, Abigail Breslin, Camille Cottin, Lilou Siauvaud, Deanna Dunagan

Director: Tom McCarthy

Running Time: 140 Minutes

Rating: R for Language

Release Date: July 30, 2021 (Theaters)

What should you do when the bartender you’re talking to is really helpful but also really racist? That’s the dilemma Bill Baker (Matt Damon) finds himself facing during one of Stillwater‘s most crucial scenes. His daughter Allison (Abigail Breslin) is in a French prison for killing her roommate/girlfriend, something she swears she’s innocent of. She’s got a lead about the real potential perp, though, as she may have encountered him while out drinking the night of the incident. The joint is under new management, but luckily for Bill, the old barkeep just hangs around the place. Less luckily, he doesn’t actually have any useful information, though he is willing to finger whatever Arab youth is under suspicion, as he attempts to ingratiate himself with Bill by positing that France has an Arab problem in much the same way that America has a Mexican problem.

Every conflict at the heart of this film is in full focus at this moment. What are you willing to sacrifice in the name of justice? Can you let go of justice to find peace? Would you trample over someone else’s justice in the pursuit of finding your own? Bill’s French companion Virginie (Camille Cottin) is insistent on leaving once she realizes the extent of the bartender’s prejudice, but for Bill, it’s not quite so simple. He’s met a lot of racists, he’s worked with a lot of racists, and he recognizes that if you want to get certain things done, it can be hard to avoid the racists entirely.

Stillwater is like Taken but if the father didn’t have a particular set of skills. Bill decides to take matters into his own hands when Allison’s lawyer tells him that it’s time for her to accept her fate, but he is way out of his depth. He spends most of the movie terrified of accepting that. He’s been a screwup dad who’s hardly ever been around for Allison, and now that he’s actually committed to being there for her, he can’t process the fact that the best way to do that is to just hang back and be patient. (Spoiler alert: he does not hang back and be patient.)

I’ll tell you one other thing: I did not expect Stillwater to be a charming and affecting love story as well, but it in fact does pull that off. Bill and Virginie couldn’t be more anti-perfect for each other: she’s a French stage actress, while he’s an itinerant blue-collar worker from Oklahoma who’s never set foot inside a theater. But somehow he forges a connection with Virginie’s daughter Maya (Lilou Siauvaud) despite them not having a common language, while he also makes himself essential as their go-to handyman. Against all odds, it’s a picture of domestic bliss, but worn uneasily. This is a probing movie about the challenge of accepting that your fate might be very different than what you expected it to be.

Stillwater is Recommended If You Like: The Amanda Knox trial, Genuine connections forged through a language barrier

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Suspects

‘Zombieland: Double Tap’ is at Its Best When It Fully Embraces Its Possible Irrelevance

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CREDIT: Sony/Columbia Pictures

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Zoey Deutch, Rosario Dawson, Luke Wilson, Thomas Middleditch, Avan Jogia

Director: Ruben Fleischer

Running Time: 93 Minutes

Rating: R for All the Fluids That Spew Out in the Zombie Apocalypse

Release Date: October 18, 2019

There’s a running gag throughout Zombieland: Double Tap in which Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) attempts to secure the title of “Zombie Kill of the Year.” He can never seem to quite pull it off, as his companion Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) is on hand to helpfully inform us of some other recent dispatch of the undead that was just a little more impressive. This begs the question, in a post-apocalyptic world in which all mass communication has been decimated, how is word about these kills spreading so quickly and seamlessly? By Columbus providing this info via voiceover narration, there is an implication, perhaps unintentional, that he is somehow omniscient. Or maybe the conceit is that he is telling us this story years later, although that does not appear to be the case, what with the sense of immediacy to his dictation.

This is not the most worrisome concern to have, but it does stand in contrast to the original Zombieland, in which everything clicked into place just so, both comedically and logically. Double Tap has several elements like this that feel important but ultimately aren’t terribly so. The jokes are given greater emphasis, but even more essential is an investigation into a nagging sense of malaise. How do you go on living in a world overrun by zombies when killing zombies has become second nature? In addressing this question, the ten years that have passed since the first Zombieland are actually an advantage.

While people do die and new zombies are turned in this world, we are never worried that the makeshift family of Columbus, Tallahassee, Wichita (Emma Stone), and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) will fall victim to the carnage. And they seem to know it. They’re living it up in the White House, treating every day like it’s Christmas, but that sense of security is only engendering mid-life, or quarter-life, crises. Columbus and Wichita especially are struggling with the realization that they have already accomplished all they need to in life by their thirties. I wish that the script had dug into these neuroses a little more deeply, but this movie works as well as it does because this malaise is the foundational conflict.

Now, to fully enjoy Double Tap, you’ll have to have a pretty big appetite for the same self-aware self-deprecating jokes being told over and over and a full embrace of certain stereotypes that have already been thoroughly deconstructed. But there’s a lot more melancholy than you might expect from a past-it-sell-by-date carnage-filled zom-com. If that’s not quite a Zombie Endorsement of the Year, it’s at least enough to assure us that our undead imaginations haven’t been fully depleted yet.

Zombieland: Double Tap is Recommended If You Like: Staring into the void, while repeating your favorite jokes over and over again

Grade: 3 out of 5 Rules