Photo: ‘Stillwater’/Focus Features
How far will families go to save their loved ones? ‘Taken’ has answered that question with Liam Neeson’s special set of skills, but what about Matt Damon’s character Bill Baker? An Oklahoma roughneck travels to France to help his daughter get exonerated for a murder she claims she is innocent of. With only his skills being in construction, Baker struggles his way through cultural differences and the complicated legal system to get the evidence that is needed for his daughter’s freedom. His daughter, Alyssa (Abigail Breslin), can only hold onto the hope and lies that her naive father provides her. A tale about family, trust, and mistakes that can last a lifetime, ‘Stillwater’ gives viewers hope for the impossible.
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‘Stillwater’ – Simple Metaphors
Symbolism in a film is not always apparent to the audience, but ‘Stillwater’ manages to have some key elements that represent the whole story. The biggest one being the oil rigs. Damon’s character, Baker, is a roughneck; a labor-intensive oil rigger. The film opens with shots of oil rigs and every so often we see them again. Landing in France we see them and then at the end, we see them again. Having Baker be a roughneck perfectly describes his situation with his daughter. A small man with no power working for the rich. His battle against the legal system is almost hopeless; a battle that many people today lose. The film is filled with metaphors that make deep connections throughout the storyline.
Racism is more than a problem in the world today, but is an issue that people think is beneath or already dealt with. The Black Lives Matter movement that has always been strong against the police brutality towards the Black community blew up last year with the George Floyd and Breonna Taylor cases. It finally woke America up with the issue that has been swept under the carpet for far too long. Some still have trouble seeing the white privilege that is so clear to see once put in front of you, but Bill Baker is one of those people. A southern man that may not be labeled a racist man, but not “woke” enough to see it is still a problem.
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‘Stillwater’ is mostly taken place in France, in Marseilles in particular. The cheaper Paris and more associated with crime. In the film, there are many instances of French racism towards the Arab characters, a huge reminder that racism comes in all shapes and sizes and a huge current problem. It was interesting seeing a different form of racism on screen and also having it be witnessed by Baker. A man that can ignore people’s ignorance rather than his translator and later friend, Virginie (Camille Cottin), refused to hear the racist things a man described, no matter what it costs. The film does a great job at showing the cultural differences and how Baker can’t acclimate or accept that things can be so different from home. Refusing to understand a culture can be a dangerous game.
Against The Change
Bill Baker is portrayed as the all-American man, owner of two guns with a tattoo of an eagle on his arm. The theme of the film is the dangers of not accepting the change. In the opening scene of the film, Baker is part of a clean-up crew after a devastating tornado. While he is riding the bus with his other workers, he overhears a conversation in Spanish talking about the situation. They state how they rebuild the town and the people come back, the other saying crazy Americans which is responded with Americans don’t like change. A harsh, but true statement that relates to the realities of living in this country. Baker feeds into as the perfect example throughout his trip to France. His refusal of learning the language and acclimating to the culture is clear and apparent. Visual examples are done with Baker’s food choices. After landing in France, he is seen holding a Subway sub bag returning to his hotel room. France is known for its remarkable cuisine, but he simply rejects the idea of even trying it.
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One of the historic murder trials that were affected by the brutalness of the media was the Amanda Knox case. It is easy to say that many people remember this case and when viewing this film there are some huge similarities. To begin with, an American student who goes abroad and her roommate gets murdered. Other than the country that it occurred in, Knox in Italy and ‘Stillwater’ in France, there is really no hiding the influence that the Knox case had on this film. The involvement of the media portraying her to be a monster wasn’t shown in the film but spoken heavily about. The fight for her to be exonerated for a crime she was sure she did not commit. Without assuming the ending of the film, Amanda Knox was acquitted for the murder of her roommate Meridith Kercher. The real villain being Rudy Guede who was convicted quietly, while Knox’s name was continuously shouted.
Knox took to Twitter with the releasement of ‘Stillwater’ and states that the film is ‘profiting’ off of her story. It, of course, is not the first time that media and filmmakers have been influenced by the tragedies of her life, but the blindness of reaching out to her directly is painful. Again and again, her story is twisted and retold through people who only saw what the media gave them. In a very eloquent Twitter thread that was also posted by The Atlantic, she speaks about the harmfulness of exploitation of being a public figure. Normally this wouldn’t be involved in a film review, but it’s important to see where society can mess up and learn from their mistakes. She has no anger towards Damon and director Tom McCarthy, but extends her hand to them to join her on her podcast, ‘Labyrinths’, to discuss the film. The film can still be enjoyed, but hold it to a standard that this isn’t the truth of her case.
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Matt Damon does a wonderful job in ‘Stillwater’ creating a flawed character that we love, but is questionable. The film is captivating and a heart-wrenching look at the legal system and how sometimes life is just brutal.
‘Stillwater’ is playing in theaters across the country now.
Actors: Matt Damon | Abigail Breslin | Camille Cottin | Liloue Siauvaud | Deanna Dunagan
Director: Tom McCarthy | Writer: Tom McCarthy, Thomas Bidegain, Marcus Hinchey, Noe Debre | Producers: Steve Golin, Liza Chasin, Jonathan King
By Jack Colin
Click here to read The Hollywood Insider’s CEO Pritan Ambroase’s love letter to Black Lives Matter, in which he tackles more than just police reform, press freedom and more – click here.
An excerpt from the love letter: The Hollywood Insider’s CEO/editor-in-chief Pritan Ambroase affirms, “The Hollywood Insider fully supports the much-needed Black Lives Matter movement. We are actively, physically and digitally a part of this global movement. We will continue reporting on this major issue of police brutality and legal murders of Black people to hold the system accountable. We will continue reporting on this major issue with kindness and respect to all Black people, as each and every one of them are seen and heard.
Just a reminder, that the Black Lives Matter movement is about more than just police brutality and extends into banking, housing, education, medical, infrastructure, etc. We have the space and time for all your stories. We believe in peaceful/non-violent protests and I would like to request the rest of media to focus on 95% of the protests that are peaceful and working effectively with positive changes happening daily. Media has a responsibility to better the world and The Hollywood Insider will continue to do so.”
Ways to support Black Lives Matter Movement to end systemic racism
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Jack Colin is a playwright and screenwriter with an immense love for film & television which drives him to learn from and share his passion with anyone willing to listen. Living life as a trans man, Jack wants his writing to create a safe space for LGBTQ+ members and share the positive stories that are so often ignored through his work at The Hollywood Insider, he is eager to give readers a confident outlook on life. The storytellers of the world are the ones who decide what happiness can be. Jack takes pride in The Hollywood Insider’s mission statement to stray away from gossip and to lift up voices in entertainment with supportive and meaningful stories that will promote strength and unity.