Like director Tom McCarthy’s previous films, Stillwater displays an unpleasant yet intriguing mood. The premise of this dark thriller is harrowing, the plot is gripping, and it is the perfect film to display Matt Damon’s ability to play a complex character.
Stillwater stars Damon and it is set mostly in Marseille, France. The film focuses on Bill Baker, played by Damon. Bill lives in Oklahoma and goes to Marseille to visit his daughter Allison, played by Abigail Breslin. She is in a French prison for murder, and Allison believes she has evidence that would exonerate herself. This puts Bill on a mission to trace the events surrounding the crime. But Bill soon begins his own life in France when he falls in love with a French woman named Virginie, played by Camille Cottin. She had been Bill’s translator and her involvement leads to some dramatic scenarios that put both Bill and Virginie at risk, and make life in prison more difficult for Allison.
Stillwater is emotionally moving and well-acted, but the differences in the law between France and the United States can sometimes make the film confusing. Despite that occasional confusion, the film had me enthralled. And the legal differences can actually sometimes make Stillwater more intriguing, because it gives Bill multiple hurdles to clearing his daughter. The film often feels like a race for Bill to prove Allison’s innocence.
Stillwater is loosely based on the true story of American Amanda Knox’s case and that connection, combined with the disturbing and sometimes depressing realism of Stillwater, had me feeling the pain and frustration that Damon’s character had throughout the film, as well as the pain and frustration of Breslin’s character. Stillwateris not a feel-good movie, but it is a realistic representation of how challenging it can be when life goes awry.
Stillwater is visually beautiful and the cinematography is brilliant. During my 2016 internship at the Cannes Film Festival I had the privilege of roaming much of the vast scenery around Marseille depicted in Stillwater, and maybe that is why I found some light in this dark film. The film could be hard to watch at times, but it was in-depth, moving, and a worthy watch, and it will speak to many people. It just may be a one time watch for many, including me. Three stars for Stillwater.
Isabelle Huppert has a relentless and fearless attitude that is perfect for movie roles with perilous situations. In the French film Mama Weed there is heated conflict, but also lots of laughs and cliches. The film can be engrossing, at least in bits and pieces, and Huppert is the reason why. But Mama Weed can also be redundant, and that requires patience (which also happens to be her name in the film) on the viewer’s part.
Huppert plays Patience Portefeux, a French-Arabic translator in Paris. She finds herself in financial trouble and decides to do translation work for the police in a drug sting operation. Patience becomes the contact for drug dealers, but she knows more than she is telling the police and she parlays this into more income. She can’t keep this discreet operation going for long, though.
Where I found the most fun in Mama Weed is when Huppert dresses in a headdress and sunglasses for her discreet operations. The entertainment value is that she doesn’t get caught up in the dangerous situations, the drug dealers do, and she walks away with a lot of the money. The sting operation scenes in Mama Weed can be funny, and though it seemed predictable, there were also some twists. But I wouldn’t call the film suspenseful or intense. It is more like a comedy spy thriller, with a small amount of drama thrown in. It wasn’t exactly mesmerizing, but it was entertaining, had a few laughs, and is worth a watch.
Some may think Mama Weed is going to be like Paul Verhoeven’s Elle (2016), a film also starring Isabelle Huppert that I saw while an intern at the Cannes Film Festival. Huppert is known for her dark performances, so people may assume that Mama Weed will be dark like Elle, but it is not. In Mama she can be dark and serious at times, but the film is nowhere near as suspenseful, violent, or disturbing as Elle was.
Mama Weed is not memorable, but it’s fun to watch, and it’s Huppert’s acting and humor, not the plot or suspense, that are the reason. I believe it’s one of those films that will grow on some cinema enthusiasts (including myself) over time, maybe with a few more viewings. I give Mama Weed two and a half stars.
Most of Nicholas Cage’s movies have been appealing, and some have been bizarre, but whether the movie is good or bad Cage’s performance is always brilliant. Pig is one of the best films he has done in a while. The title of the film has a double meaning. One meaning defines the brilliant, clever, and vindictive personality that Cage performs in this engrossing thriller. Cage is relentless in Pig and his performance adds depth and meaning to the film.
Cage plays Rob, a man who lives alone in the Oregon wilderness. He works as a truffle hunter and lives with just his truffle pig, giving the other meaning for the title. Soon though, Rob’s solitude is violently disrupted as he is robbed and his pig is stolen. Rob loves that pig and he goes on a mission to get it back with his truffle business partner Amir, played by Alex Wolff. Amir ends up driving Rob to places from his past to help him get his pig back, and the film becomes a harrowing journey of discovery towards the many reasons why Rob’s pig was stolen from him.
At times Rob speaks to former colleagues about errors from his past that they have contributed to, and this adds to the puzzle of his missing pig. These scenes had me wondering who is more to blame, and who is more dangerous. As one conversation leads to another the resolution of the pig theft starts to come into focus. This makes Pig an inviting journey with many unexpected answers, and some disturbing discoveries. It is all done in such a quiet, surprising and spectacular way by director Michael Sarnoski in his directing debut.
The forests of Oregon and the incredible scenery make Pig invigorating as well. Rob knows the paths through the forest well, and the scenes where he is traveling through them are vibrant with faded cinematography, which had me feeling an in-depth experience with the outdoors.
I am giving Pig four stars. I loved the structure of this movie and it its unpredictability had me enthralled. Pigmay be one of the best films of 2021.