You have to look carefully to see Matt Damon. He is wearing a yellow vest and a hard hat, his face is hidden behind sunglasses and a thick beard. Bill Baker, the hero of Stillwater, cleans up.
He stands in a landscape of rubble left by a tornado. Dismantles walls with a sledgehammer, pulls out cables, removes rubble. Stillwater, a town of 50,000 in Oklahoma, needs a fresh start. For Baker, who was addicted to alcohol, lost his job as an oil drill and now works on construction sites, it is at least as true.
The daughter is said to have killed her lover
Tom McCarthy’s film is a mixture of social drama and crime thriller, but above all the portrait of a man who is trying to get back on his feet in life. Damon plays him great, with a heaviness that is not only due to the body weight he has put on for the role, and minimal facial expressions that barely show any emotion.
The images sometimes seem almost documentary, the camera hangs on Baker’s heels, accompanies him to the airport and from there to Marseille. From the Midwest to the South of France, the light brightens, becomes shimmering and glistening. But Baker does not travel as a tourist, he visits his daughter Allison (Abigail Breslin), who is in prison.
The student was convicted in a spectacular trial for the murder of her lover, but continues to protest her innocence. Baker, who had not had contact with her for years, is with her regularly, bringing fresh linen and greetings from her grandmother. When they meet in the visitor cell, a depressing shed, they pray together, then she slips him a slip. It’s a letter with new clues for her lawyer.
But for the lawyer, the case is closed and an appeal is impossible. “She has to accept the punishment,” she says. “The last thing you can give your daughter is false hope.” But Baker assures Allison on her next visit that her case will be reopened. A betrayal.
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“Stillwater” was inspired by the case of the American student Amanda Knox, who was convicted in Perugia in 2009 for the murder of her roommate and was acquitted after four years in prison. The judicial drama had caused a stir around the world.
Tom McCarthy turns it into a one-man-alone-against-the-underworld thriller, in which it doesn’t really matter that Baker finds the real culprit. More important is the question of whether it will manage to get out of its armor.
The director became known for his Oscar-winning drama “Spotlight” about a team of journalists who uncovered cases of abuse in the Catholic Church in Boston. “Stillwater” is staged in a similarly pleasantly old-fashioned way.
Baker, who cannot afford a private detective, laboriously researches facts, puts himself in danger. He’s looking for Akim, a young man who is said to have celebrated with Allison and her friend on the night of the murder. The DNA traces that the police found at the crime scene could come from him.
The trail leads to a high-rise estate on the outskirts that is dominated by drug dealers. A ghetto of the sorted out with an atmosphere of fear and anger, as it was recently seen – albeit less ostentatiously – in the French banlieue drama “The Angry – Les Misérables”.
Baker has been warned that the area is too dangerous to leave the car. On the second visit, he gets out anyway. Young people circle him with their motorbikes, for a moment the violence explodes.
Gently approaching a woman with a child
In the second dramaturgical strand, “Stillwater” becomes a love story. Bill Baker is a stranger, hardly speaks a word of French. To get ahead, he needs local support. He finds her in his hotel, where Virginie (Camille Cottin) stayed for a few days with her little son. After moving into an apartment, Baker reports to her. She helps with phone calls, translates for him. He repairs her drain, plays soccer with the son.
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After a while, Baker becomes a subtenant and finds work on the construction site. A cautious approach, maybe this time Baker will be able to keep his luck. At the latest when he gives the boy an Olympique Marseille jersey, he seems to have found a connection to the city, the “favorite American” almost seems naturalized.
Everything is going too smoothly not to take revenge after all. Over dinner, do colleagues from Virginie’s theater company want to know whether Baker voted for Trump? No he did `nt. “I have a criminal record and I was not allowed to vote”. Does he have weapons? “Yes, even two, a Colt and a rifle.” Not a good omen.
Chase through suburban streets
The best scene in the film takes place in the sold-out stadium of Olympique Marseille. An evening game in the glaring spotlight. Baker got tickets for herself and Virginie’s son. Grainy pictures show the winning goal for the home team. The stadium cheers, the camera shakes.
And then Baker spots Akim two or three blocks away. After he escaped in the settlement, this is his second chance to catch him. Maybe the last to save Allison, to prove her innocence. With the boy by the hand, Baker pursues the alleged murderer. Down the stairs, past screaming fans, then in the car through suburban streets. When Baker gets out of the car, he does something he will regret. Because it’s betrayal again.
“There is no truth, just telling stories,” says Virginie in a rehearsal. “Stillwater” has no clear resolution. But the film tells a good story.