REVIEW: Stillwater - a haunting yet distasteful film

Stillwater (15), (140 mins), Cineworld Cinemas.

Thursday, 5th August 2021, 8:30 pm
Matt Damon in 'Stillwater' (Focus Features)
Matt Damon in 'Stillwater' (Focus Features)

Stillwater is a tense, brooding, drama, seemingly a quest against all the legal odds to right a miscarriage of justice.

Sadly, though, the thing you will probably brood about more at the end (even though it’s a powerful, haunting conclusion) is the extent to which the whole film has ripped off a real-life murder.

And you will also be pondering just why it matters so much. This really isn’t a film which leaves a terribly nice taste.

Amanda Knox has claimed new film Stillwater sensationalises her life, using her story “without her consent" and "at the expense of her reputation.”

Watch the film and then remind yourself of the case – the 2007 murder in Perugia of British student Meredith Kercher which sparked lurid headlines around the world – and it is very very easy to see just why Knox is so incensed. She should be.

And the whole issue leaves a nasty taste, especially as the film-makers have apparently conceded that the killing really was an "initial inspiration point.”

However far the film then strays away from it is hardly the point. The film damns itself – which is a huge shame because if we could divorce the two (and there is no reason why we should), the film is an impressive piece of work, a meditation on what we lose and what we gain and how the two are a function of the other.

Matt Damon is excellent as the oil-rig roughneck from Oklahoma who travels to Marseille to visit his estranged daughter in a Marseille prison where she is serving nine years for the murder of her girlfriend.

Abigail Breslin as daughter Allison invests the young woman with something which is difficult to warm to, particularly in contrast with Damon’s Bill, a guy who has battled booze and drugs, has fallen off the rails but is now doing his level best to do the right thing – even though his behaviour becomes increasingly questionable when he believes he has identified the real culprit.

Chance brings him into the company of struggling actress Virginie (excellent again from Camille Cottin) and her simply gorgeous nine-year-old daughter Maya (Lilou Siauvaud). The scenes with Maya are beautifully, tenderly done as the two open up worlds for Bill he has never known. Meanwhile, Allison scowls in prison.

The whole thing is intriguingly pitched and probably worth the slightly lengthy running time as it rather leisurely reaches a conclusion which will certainly stay with you.

But possibly not as much as the disquiet that this film has somehow, distastefully traded in real-life murder. It’s hardly the greatest recommendation – however good the film itself, however good the performances.

Really odd, though, about the suicide attempt in the film. It happens. But no one mentions it. It almost feels like the editing has gone awry somewhere…