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Matt Damon brought some major star wattage to the Croisette on Thursday evening, attending the Cannes Film Festival world premiere of Tom McCarthy’s Stillwater, a drama which is, above all else, a showcase for a strong Damon performance.
The ageless veteran clearly relished the chance to play a regular guy again — as opposed to an assassin, a race car driver or an astronaut — and threw himself into the project, body and soul; indeed, he teared up during the five-minute ovation that the film received at the Palais. Moving forward, his performance represents the film’s strongest shot at awards season recognition.
In Stillwater, Damon plays an everyman from middle America who winds up a fish out of water in France. A patriotic man of few words (other than “Sir” and “Ma’am”) who works hard and prays hard, he is also, as the film cheekily addresses, a gun-owner who probably supported Trump. But he is, first and foremost, a single father tormented by the fact that his only child, a twentysomething daughter (Abigail Breslin, an Oscar nominee 15 years ago for Little Miss Sunshine), has been incarcerated in Marseille for years for a murder she insists she didn’t commit (yes, a lot like the Amanda Knox case). There, he finds himself the last person still fighting for her exoneration and release — and also becomes involved with a single French woman (Camille Cottin, star of Call My Agent!) and her nine-year-old daughter (Lilou Siauvaud, who has the screen presence of a young Jodie Foster or Natalie Portman).
As THR film critic David Rooney noted in his review of the film, the story is “clunky, old-fashioned and predictable when it’s not implausible,” but all of the performers — especially Damon — do a great job of pushing through that and keeping it engaging.
Why is Stillwater the first film directed by McCarthy since 2015’s Spotlight won the best picture Oscar, excepting the 2020 Disney+ family film Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made? Why did it require four screenwriters? (McCarthy is credited alongside Jacques Audiard collaborators Thomas Bidegain and Noe Debre, as well as Marcus Hinchey.) Why is it premiering at Cannes out of competition, rather than in competition? Why, if it has awards aspirations, is it being released theatrically in the U.S. on July 30? (It was originally slated for a November 2020 release.) And, as we get deeper into awards season, will Damon campaign on behalf of his performance in this film or in Ridley Scott’s forthcoming The Last Duel?
These all seem to me to be reasonable questions that I do not yet know the answers to.
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