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

This Is a Movie Review: Spotlight

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There is an inherent drama and urgency in the Catholic Church priest abuse scandal that a film about it does not need to do any work to tease out. But just perfunctorily putting the Boston Globe’s investigation of this story does not automatically make for a great movie. Luckily, director Tom McCarthy and his co-screenwriter Josh Singer make plenty of astute filmmaking decisions alongside their similarly tuned-in cast and crew.

Recognizing that the story itself is plenty powerful (the epilogue text detailing the extent of the abuse is perhaps the most overwhelming moment in any movie this year), the actors on the Spotlight team (Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Brian d’Arcy James) keep it understated. As victims’ lawyer Mitch Garabedian, Stanley Tucci is labeled eccentric, but he is actually also low-key. The production design, cinematography, and costumes are all also appropriately drab.

The plot manages to legitimately earn the descriptor “action,” with the editing favoring cross-cutting between various story threads. This plays out as such: Mike Rezendes (Ruffalo) tracks down evidence at the courthouse, and before we find out if he uncovers the right puzzle piece, we check in on Sacha Pfeiffer (McAdams) interviewing a victim, but before she gets out all her questions, it cuts back to Mike, and then it cuts around to the rest of the team. This is just Filmmaking 101, creating tension and establishing engagement. Spotlight makes a difference, and it is thrilling.