Matt Damon’s Roughneck isn’t Liam Neeson trying to get his daughter out of French prison

Four years after actor-writer-director Tom McCarthy rebounded from the sad critical reception of “The Cobbler” to Oscar glory with “Spotlight,” he finally retired behind the camera, continuing his acclaimed journalistic drama. with … “Timmy’s failure: mistakes were made”, A family comedy that premiered on Disney + last year that you almost certainly haven’t seen.

And for his follow-up of this film, the man with the least predictable career in Hollywood came up with “Stillwater,” an independent semi-thriller of the genre that was greeted with cheers and applause at its much-loved Cannes Film Festival premiere on Thursday.

Perfectly reflecting the style and signature of its director, “Stillwater” is nearly impossible to pin down, taking the broad contours of a stoic-thriller-which-will-stop-at-nothing-to-save-his-daughter and them. stunning, filling with so much texture, humor and emotional attention that the film ends up looking more like “Jerry Maguire” than “Taken”.

Matt Damon leads the way as Bill Baker, a pious and godly Oklahoma thug, a man so damn American that when he rolls up his sleeve to get to work, you’ll notice the bald eagle he has. tattooed on the arm. We open up on Bill in a hard hat and work boots, cleaning up the wreckage of a tornado – an act he’s had to do in his personal life time and time again. “He’s crazy,” his daughter Allison (Abigail Breslin) says of him. “And he always will be. “

Of course, Allison isn’t doing very well either, as she was arrested and charged with murder in a case very clearly based on that of Amanda Knox – only in this case, the victim was more than just a simple one. roommate, but a cheating girlfriend. Though the motive and circumstances indicate, Allison claims her innocence, which means it’s time for dad to fly to France – Marseille, here – to save his daughter.

Like Liam Neeson’s heroic father, Damon’s Bill also has a very special set of skills, just for Bill, they mostly consist of carpentry and general house maintenance, while neither detective nor fluency in the language. are among them. And quickly enough, he connects the single mother Virginie (Camille Cottin, from “Call My Agent”) to act as translator and guide.

A signal of McCarthy’s different priorities: by the time the character arrives in France at the start of the film, his daughter has already been locked up for five years. Indeed, what prompts Bill’s manhunt is not his daughter’s arrest, but a letter she writes half a decade later begging a local judge to intervene because his father is not up to the task.

"Annette" Vernissage Cannes Adam Driver Marion Cotillard

From there, it’s off to the races of this unusually languid thriller, which follows a well-marked path while making many detours along the way. The film’s two writing teams should shed some light on some of his concerns. Credit goes to Americans Tom McCarthy and Marcus Hinchey alongside French duo Noé Debré and Thomas Bidegain, who have written alongside Jacques Audiard for the past decade.

As with this Audiard release, “Stillwater” takes on a thriller form and roots it with a deep sense of context and place. For Damon’s American thug and for the viewer, the film is a journey through the many social, racial and political layers of Marseille. Was Allison’s case sensational because she was in a queer relationship? Of course. Was the case even more scandalous because the victim was a working class and Arab while the equally working class Allison was also white and American, therefore considered rich? But yes !

While the script more than laughs at Bill’s discomfort with the fish out of the water, neither he nor the locals remain the butt of the joke. Benefiting from two screenwriters with a solid understanding of French culture, “Stillwater” recognizes that Damon’s all-American aura is an asset in his quest; if anything high culture, Paris-graft Virginie attracts more anger in the projects.

Cannes Oscar winners

When Bill’s pursuit comes to a standstill, he extends his stay indefinitely; and as he stays longer in Marseille, the film itself becomes, for lack of a better term, more French, pausing the larger narrative to take a 40-minute cigarette break where it reflects amicably on paternal ties and romantic.

Damon’s American eventually moves into the Frenchwoman’s apartment, life and then bed, but their relationship is an almost casual outgrowth of the film’s true central bond: between Bill and Virginia’s 9-year-old daughter, Maya (Lilou Siauvaud, who received the longest and most passionate applause at the Cannes premiere). Parentheses by genre at both ends, the middle third of this 140-minute film becomes a sweet tale of a misfit finding in a platonic relationship a kind of second chance in life. In other words, it becomes a certain type of Tom McCarthy movie – then comes back to the overall story.

The seams between these very disparate directing styles certainly show themselves, making you wonder if this project was the result of two very different storylines brought together by Frankenstein into one. Still, McCarthy should be applauded for his daring even in attempting the merger. And my boy, did the Cannes public applaud.

Check out the Cannes digital magazine issue of TheWrap here. You can find all of TheWrap’s Cannes coverage here.

Cover of TheWrap Cannes issue
Cannes Film Festival 2021

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