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Review by Rich Cline |
dir Tom McCarthy
scr Tom McCarthy, Marcus Hinchey, Thomas Bidegain, Noe Debre
prd Steve Golin, Tom McCarthy, Jonathan King, Liza Chasin
with Matt Damon, Camille Cottin, Abigail Breslin, Lilou Siauvaud, Deanna Dunagan, Moussa Maaskri, Anne Le Ny, Idir Azougli, Isabelle Tanakil, Naidra Ayadi, Gilbert Traina, Pierre Piacentino
release US 30.Jul.21,
21/US Participant 2h20
CANNES FILM FEST
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Loosely connected to recent headlines, this fictional dramatic thriller features meaty characters that give the cast plenty to dig into. Director Tom McCarthy establishes a fine sense of realism, but over-stretches the narrative with a final act that's naggingly contrived. Even so, it's riveting, and the script knowingly grapples with larger issues that provide plenty of extra texture. So even the more obvious scenes are underscored with nuance.
In Stillwater, Oklahoma, the unemployed Bill (Damon) heads to Marseille to visit his daughter Allison (Breslin), who's been in prison for five years, but claims to be innocent of murdering her girlfriend. Her lawyer (Izougli) has exhausted all appeals, and the ex-cop private eye (Maaskri) is too pricey. So Bill digs into the case himself. After befriending 9-year-old Maya (Siauvaud) in his hotel, he reaches out to her actress mother Virginie (Cottin) for help translating French. The question is whether he'll be able to find a key suspect the police missed in their investigation.
Bill's sense of urgency sets the films pace, insistently moving forward without taking no for an answer. A stubborn Yank, he neglects to learn the language and eats at Subway. And while most people laugh at his blustering American ways, they respect his drive. His connection with Virginie is a slow-moving romance, as she and Maya provide a grounded sense of peace. And his estranged relationship with Allison is plainly moving toward mutual understanding. So the rocky moments along the way are a bit distracting, but they keep things moving inexorably forward.
Damon beefs up impressively as Bill, a relatively simple man with a straightforward approach to life. He often bulldozes through conversations, missing the subtleties entirely, so his actions can become transgressive. This of course makes his relationships messy, and both Cottin and Breslin add superbly rippling layers as strong women who have their own lives beyond their connections to Bill. Their natural, open-handed performances are a sharp counterpoint to Damon's brusqueness. Which leaves Siauvaud to steal the film as the cheeky-smart Maya.
The finely tuned filmmaking helps overcome most of the shortcomings in the somewhat over-constructed script, digging beneath the surface to explore motivations rather than just actions. Still, there are elements of the story that are underdeveloped, including two key references to suicide. But at the centre, Bill's journey carries a gentle kick in the way he finally allows himself to open up and see the world beyond his eponymous hometown.
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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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