"Stillwater", - The New York Times

The New York Times translated a selection of its best articles into French. Find them here. Obviously, when American films want to talk ...


The New York Times translated a selection of its best articles into French. Find them here.

Obviously, when American films want to talk about the United States, which is more about grandiose, profound or symbolic subjects, they tend to hold back their blows. This shyness can be explained in different ways, to the sound of the fear of hurting the delicate sensitivity of the prominent public figure. It is thus that eminently political narratives rarely take sides, and that films with a very serious tone like “Still water” end up sinking under the weight of their good intentions.

In “Stillwater”, the latest opus from director Tom McCarthy (to whom we notably owe “Spotlight”), Matt Damon plays Bill Baker. It ticks off all of the typical character’s business racked up by the woes of late capitalism, including jobs that lead nowhere, family agonies, and hurt masculinity. He also offers a touch of the exotic to the Hollywood woman: he comes from Oklahoma. A former drug addict, Bill now alternates between wielding the hammer and praying. Proud, tough, lonely, and whose impassiveness struggles to hide the violence that inhabits him, he leads a gloomy little life in a gloomy little house. It doesn’t say much, but has all the symptoms of the white man’s blues.

He also drags a burden, in the person of his daughter, Allison, (the casting error Abigail Breslin), who is serving a sentence in a Marseille prison, condemned for the savage murder of his girlfriend. The story conceived by McCarthy (who co-wrote the screenplay with other writers) is inspired by that of Amanda Knox, an American student in Italy convicted of a murder dating back to 2007. A case that caused a scandal international. Knox’s punishment was finally canceled, and his return to the United States immortalized by sordid headlines in the press, books, documentaries and, in 2015, by a food feature film with Kate Beckinsale.

Like this film, which deals with vampiric and sensationalist media flaws, “Stillwater” is less interested in the details of the Knox affair than in the moral lessons that can be drawn from it. Right after the opening scene, then a tour of Bill’s natural habitat – a Gothic industrial landscape and uncrowded junk food dinners – he visits Allison, a trip he’s taken on several occasions before. This time he stays. Allison thinks she has a lead to prove her innocence, plunging her father into an endless investigation, which for a while, quickens the pace of the film.

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