Stillwater – don’t make me go there

IF THERE’S one thing you take from the bleak film Stillwater, it’s that a fate worse than prison is without a doubt having to stay at the Best Western hotel.

At the start of the film, main character Bill Baker (Matt Damon) is an oilrig roughneck who is struggling to find work so is clearing the debris left in the wake of a tornado that’s hit Stillwater – a town in Oklahoma where he and his sickly mum live. Times are tough and Bill doesn’t have much money so he relies on his mum to pay for things. Basic things and not so basic things like travel, accommodation and gifts to bring when he visits his daughter Allison who has been incarcerated in prison in the South of France’s Cote D’Azur.

Allison has been accused of murdering her girlfriend Lina, who had been cheating on her. She has served five years of a prison sentence and has four left to go.

When Bill makes his regular visit to her – staying at the Best Western hotel where next door guests play loud music, are cheeky and where the bland routine of checking in at a drab reception is painful to watch – Allison has a letter to pass on to her lawyer. She believes she has proof from an overheard conversation that the real killer, Azim – a man she met in a bar whom she claims stole her apartment keys and committed the crime – exists.

But nobody will help Matt Damon’s character or is it Liam Neeson’s character or it is Charles Bronson’s – yep, this storyline is very familiar. So Bill takes matters into his own hands to find the guy.

At the Best Western he befriends the bohemian next door guest Virginie’s eight-year-old daughter Maya and they strike a bond that strengthens when Virginie – who has now moved into an apartment – helps Bill with a translation of the letter and other language-related things tying them together.

Virginie, played by Camille Cottin, has a French accent, as expected in the south of France. No, wait a minute. It’s English, no it’s a bit of a puzzle. Perhaps she’s is character as she plays a theatre actress, to which American’s clearly look down on.
Bill describing Virginie’s job: “…she’s…a sort of an actress…”
Allison: “What, she’s a stripper?”
Bill (and this is the shock horror bit): “She does theatre.”
Allison (laughs): “Theatre?”
Quite a dig from the Sooner State’s (Oklahoma’s nickname) former residents.

There are throw away comments like the one at the start of the film when foreign workers at the tornado disaster site in Stillwater question why people return to somewhere that will clearly be ravaged again by Nature’s will. Hmm, so this is making an environmental or human will statement. Nope. It was thrown in and never addressed or expanded on so what was the point of mentioning it as it didn’t flow with anything?

There are also poignant moments. When Lina has returned to prison from her day release she is standing outside staring up at the stars before she re-enters and remarks: “It’s more beautiful on this side of the wall.”

Thanks to some serious mistakes on what Bill thinks is the right way to help his daughter – committing a crime to prove someone’s innocence is never a good idea – he is kicked out of Virginie and Maya’s apartment and at this point I am gripping tightly at the edge of my cinema seat. No it can’t be. But sadly it is. Bill has to return to the Best Western welcomed by the receptionist’s robotic greeting and the walls devoid of any interior design. I think this may have been the real focus of the film. If you make a serious mistake of judgement there’s no escape from Best Western Hell.

It’s nicely filmed and Matt Damon and Camille Cottin are believable and likeable but it left me with a feeling of nothing except a predictable outcome by the end of it all.
by Susie Daniels