Stillwater review – fictionalised Amanda Knox drama is so bad it’s bad

Matt Damon is woefully miscast as a rash, violent loser in Tom McCarthy’s calamitous reworking of the notorious murder case

Tom McCarthy is the director who gave us the Oscar-winning Spotlight, an estimable film. But this is one to forget: a muddled, tonally misjudged, badly acted, uncertainly directed and frankly dubious drama, something that falls into the so-bad-it’s-bad bracket. It’s hamfistedly inspired by the Amanda Knox case, the young American woman who was acquitted having spent four years in an Italian prison after the murder in 2007 of her roommate in Perugia, the British exchange student Meredith Kercher. This film creates a fictional quasi-Knox figure and fatuously convicts this made-up character of a certain muddled wrongdoing that the real Amanda Knox may very well feel she should not be smeared with.

The action is moved 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 dad Bill, a construction worker. He comes out to Marseille (presumably on a tourist visa, though he appears to stay indefinitely, doing building-site jobs) . But now he is consumed with the need to solve the case, prove his daughter’s innocence and catch the guy who actually did it.

And while he is there, Bill – an all-American, home-loving guy who prays and says grace but is also supposed to be a “fuckup” – embarks on one of the most unlikely relationships in film history, beginning a romance with a local stage actor and single mom Virginie(Camille Cottin). This character is very important in mediating between Bill and the locals, acting as his interpreter as well as his lover. Her infant daughter absolutely adores Bill. But he and Virginie really don’t look right together; even in their most supposedly intimate moments, Damon and Cottin look as if they have just been introduced at some LA party and have nothing in common.

Damon is in a terrible bind in this film. Of course, he has to be sympathetic – he has to be Matt Damon –and the film won’t permit him to be anything else. But it is also important that he is a bit of a loser, that his daughter doesn’t trust him, as well as to explain away his extraordinarily reckless acts of violence, which the film never really acknowledges. He just seems to be a stolid good ol’ boy who wears a cap at all times and faithfully shows up for prison visits.

At a football match in Marseille, Bill happens to glimpse the young man widely suspected of the murder for which his daughter has been convicted and embarks on an inexplicable act of vigilantism. Whoah! No matter which way this terrible film slices it, this is a very creepy, Lecter-esque thing for Damon to do, and the drama has no way of coming to terms with it.

And yet another bizarre note comes with a scene in which Allison is supposed to have attempted suicide in jail – apparently to assure us that she too is suffering. But this unfortunate event is simply forgotten: there is no scene in which Bill and Allison discuss it. Did it get lost in the edit? It is really odd.

There are some good people in this awful film, whose talents have been wasted. And the only thing to do now is forget all about it.

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

Contributor

Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
A Hero review – Asghar Farhadi’s realist tale is just too messy and unsatisfactory
Plot holes trip up the Iranian director’s drama of a slippery man’s desperate efforts to trick his way out of debtors’ prison

Peter Bradshaw

13, Jul, 2021 @3:50 PM

Article image
Drive My Car review – mysterious Murakami tale of erotic and creative secrets
Ryûsuke Hamaguchi reaches a new grandeur with this engrossing adaptation about a theatre director grappling with Chekhov and his wife’s infidelity

Peter Bradshaw

14, Jul, 2021 @11:49 AM

Article image
Amanda Knox says Matt Damon film Stillwater ‘rips off’ and distorts her story
Writer-director Tom McCarthy’s movie ‘inspired’ by 2007 murder of British student Meredith Kercher reinforces conspiracy theories about the case, says Knox

Andrew Pulver

30, Jul, 2021 @1:37 PM

Article image
Annette review – Adam Driver magnificent in wild Sparks musical
Driver and Marion Cotillard brim with nervous energy in this bizarre musical collaboration between Leos Carax and the Sparks brothers, which kicks off this year’s film festival

Peter Bradshaw

06, Jul, 2021 @7:45 PM

Article image
Memoria review – Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Tilda Swinton make a dream team
The Thai master’s English-language debut – about an expat attuned to strange frequencies in Colombia – more than matches his past mystic odysseys

Peter Bradshaw

15, Jul, 2021 @3:45 PM

Article image
Les Misérables review – savvy cop procedural swerves into molotov mayhem
Ladj Ly’s debut feature is a police drama set in a tough Paris suburb that loses subtlety as it erupts into violence

Peter Bradshaw

15, May, 2019 @6:13 PM

Article image
Paris, 13th District review – Jacques Audiard’s sexy apartment-block anthology
Audiard brings his typical visual fluency to this entertaining collection of interlocking stories about characters hooking up in the 13th arrondissement

Peter Bradshaw

14, Jul, 2021 @10:16 PM

Article image
Between Two Worlds review – Juliette Binoche goes undercover in the gig economy
Emmanuel Carrère’s drama – based on Florence Aubenas’s bestseller Le Quai de Ouistreham – fails to probe fully the injustices faced by low-paid workers

Peter Bradshaw

07, Jul, 2021 @8:30 AM

Article image
La Fracture review – gilets jaunes fable breaks under weight of its metaphors
A lovelorn woman lies in a Paris hospital as violent protests rage on the streets. It’s all very symbolic … but is it any good?

Peter Bradshaw

09, Jul, 2021 @9:38 PM

Article image
In Safe Hands review – lives collide in intelligent adoption drama
In a welcome but heavy-handed tale, a fortysomething woman embarks on a momentous quest to bring a child into her home

Phil Hoad

29, May, 2019 @12:00 PM