On November 2, 2007, the body of Meredith Kercher, an English exchange student sharing an apartment with three other women, was found in her room. She had been sexually assaulted and stabbed in the neck multiple times. One of her roommates, an American exchange student named Amanda Knox and Amanda's boyfriend, were arrested in connection to the crime. A third person, Rudy Guede, was also arrested, as his DNA was found in Kercher's room. Knox, her boyfriend, and Guede were all convicted of the killing, but Knox was eventually acquitted after spending four years in prison. Stillwater, a Focus Features movie, is loosely based on Amanda Knox's journey through the Italian court system.
Bill Baker (Matt Damon; The Martian) was an oil rig worker from Oklahoma. His wife committed suicide and his daughter, Allison (Abigail Breslin; Little Miss Sunshine), was raised mostly by her maternal grandmother, Sharon (Deanna Dunagan; The Visit) because Bill was a drug addict who ended up in prison. Working in construction while he tries to find a job on a rig, he flies to France often to visit Allison in jail who is serving a sentence for a crime she says she didn't commit.
When a student tells her professor that she overheard a guy named Akim (Idir Azougli; The Strong Hold) telling someone he stabbed somebody to death and got away with it, Allison finds out and begs her attorney to help her get a new trial. When the lawyer refuses, Bill takes it upon himself to investigate and look for Akim. He stays in Marseille getting a construction job and renting a room from a woman named Virginie (Camille Cottin; Dumped) while he tries to find Akim. Seeing Akim by chance, at a Futbol game, Bill takes drastic measures to bring him to justice, therefore freeing Allison.
Co-writer and director Tom McCarthy (Spotlight) offers some beautiful scenic views, but he needs to learn the fine art of editing. Clocking in at two hours and twenty minutes run time, the film is entirely too long and begins to drag in the middle. While the twist at the end complicates the outcome, as well as Bill and Allison's relationship, it solidifies the feeling that McCarthy was telling the wrong story from the beginning.
Damon is decent as Bill and Cottin does a good job making Virginie interesting, but the two actors have zero chemistry making their "relationship" completely unbelievable and awkward to watch. Maya (newcomer Lilou Siauvaud), Virginie's daughter, whom Bill helps take care of, is the best actor in this cast. She steals every scene she is in and seems like an acting veteran despite her young age. She and Damon have what seems to be a genuine bond that transfers to their on-screen characters. Breslin, who has done some amazing work in past roles, comes across as fairly one-dimensional and rather unlikeable. You don't especially care what happens to Allison because you aren't terribly invested in the character.
The Amanda Knox story is fascinating and I'm sure there is more to it than what the world has seen and heard through the media. Like Knox, Allison holds some secrets that deserve a more in-depth investigation. Unfortunately, that is not the story that Stillwater tells. If it did it would have been a more interesting movie.
What is interesting is that we see 1) Bill trying to get a second chance at parenting, 2) how Bill emotionally damaged Allison as a child and 3) as an adult, how Allison has emotionally damaged Bill.
Psychologically, one could have a field day delving into the personalities of these characters, how they affect each other, and the wounds they inflict on themselves and those around them. Sadly, McCarthy never gets below surface level so the audience doesn't get an emotional release that would have made the movie so much better.
Do yourself a favor, wait for this one to come to television.