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How Matt Damon’s ‘Stillwater’ explores ‘ugly Americans’ in the post-Trump era

For on a regular basis he has spent touring the globe making and selling motion pictures all through his profession, Matt Damon is unhappy to report that his linguistic talents are sorely restricted.

“I’ve spent a lot time in Italy, in Hungary, in France, in Jordan, and I’ve bought nothing to indicate for any of it,” Damon stated just lately over Zoom from his residence in Los Angeles. “I communicate some Spanish however that’s about it. Sadly, if you’re in manufacturing you’re simply lighting cash on fireplace, they usually don’t have time so that you can sit there and be taught a language. It ain’t about your expertise and your development.”

When it got here to his newest movie — the dramatic thriller “Stillwater,” in theaters Friday — that proved an odd form of asset. Initially slated for launch in November 2020 and delayed because of the pandemic, the movie is partially an exploration of the stereotype of the “ugly American,” throwing elbows on the world’s stage, blind to different factors of view. “My ignorance positively helped my efficiency,” Damon stated.

Directed by Tom McCarthy (“Highlight”), “Stillwater” stars Damon as an Oklahoma roughneck named Invoice Baker who travels to the French port metropolis of Marseille to try to free his estranged daughter (Abigail Breslin) from jail for a homicide she insists she didn’t commit. Struggling to navigate a tradition that’s fully alien to him, Baker enlists the assistance of a sympathetic native single mom named Virginie (Camille Cottin), and the 2 kind an unlikely bond, whilst Baker goes exterior the regulation in pursuit of what he believes to be justice.

Abigail Breslin and Matt Damon in “Stillwater.”

(Jessica Forde / Focus Options)

At first look, “Stillwater” seems to have the trimmings of an motion thriller, a la Liam Neeson’s “Taken,” refracted by a fictional twist on the real-life saga of Amanda Knox. However, collaborating with French screenwriters Thomas Bidegain and Noé DeBré, McCarthy sought to make one thing deeper, mining themes of intolerance, forgiveness and morality that he hope will resonate with audiences after the turbulence of the Trump period.

Aiming to ship his tackle a Mediterranean noir, McCarthy began engaged on the movie a decade in the past however feeling dissatisfied with the script, put it away in a drawer. “I actually didn’t have any intention of going again to it,” stated McCarthy, who went on to earn Oscars for finest image and unique screenplay for 2015’s “Highlight,” together with a directing nod. “Whereas the setup was good, it simply wasn’t absolutely realized.”

However the thought for “Stillwater” caught at the back of McCarthy‘s thoughts and 6 years after setting it apart he introduced it to Bidegain and DéBr´é, who collaborated on movies reminiscent of Jacques Audiard’s 2015 crime drama “Dheepan.” Over the subsequent 18 months, the three rewrote the script, deepening the characters and pushing the story towards a cross-cultural fusion of American and French cinematic kinds.

“The movie upsets expectations, and I believe that’s the great thing about this nice American screenwriter and these two nice French screenwriters coming collectively,” Damon stated. “You assume it’s going to be: ‘Give me again my daughter! I’ve a really explicit set of abilities.’ And it’s like, no, Invoice Baker doesn’t have any of these abilities. However he loves his child and he’s doing one of the best he can in a world that he doesn’t fairly perceive in any respect.”

On the time, the [Trump] administration was taking America out of worldwide issues. It was a bizarre time for us within the relationship with America.

Thomas Bidegain, screenwriter

At the same time as McCarthy, Bidegain and DéBré reworked the script, perceptions of Individuals overseas had been quickly altering within the wake of the election of Donald Trump. It was inevitable that these shifting political currents made their method into the script. “It’s not an overtly political film however there’s actually politics within the DNA,” McCarthy stated. “Penning this in 2016 and 2017, how might there not be?”

“Tom was actually keen to speak concerning the ethical authority of America,” Bidegain stated. “On the time, the brand new administration was taking America out of worldwide issues. It was a bizarre time for us within the relationship with America.”

Together with politics, the three mentioned their mutual love of long-form true-crime podcasts like “Serial” and “S-City.” “We talked about how these podcasts moved past the crime and into the world of character,” McCarthy stated. “We thought, let’s begin reaching for that cinematically. Let’s attempt to kind of mirror that in our writing and finally, in our filmmaking. It actually gave us a kind of tenet.”

To play the position of Virginie, McCarthy solid Cottin, who’s well-known in her native France however has solely just lately earned wider recognition in Hollywood because of the worldwide success of the French comedy sequence “Call My Agent!” on Netflix.

A woman and a man walk along a street.

Cottin and Damon in a scene from “Stillwater.”

(Jessica Forde / Focus Options)

“Tom knew nothing about me,” stated Cottin, who can be seen later this 12 months in Ridley Scott’s crime drama “Home of Gucci.” “It was good as a result of it was simply the work and the character as I proposed it and as we constructed it collectively, that made his selection.”

Taking pictures on location in Marseille with an nearly fully French crew, McCarthy steered away from the gauzy, picture-postcard depiction one would possibly count on in an American movie. Quite than romanticize the port metropolis, he tried to seize each its magnificence and vibrancy in addition to its grittier aspect, highlighting tensions over problems with race and immigration that in some ways mirror these in American society.

”The way in which Tom filmed Marseille, it’s so true to what town actually is,” Cottin stated. “Marseille is without doubt one of the most violent cities in France, and even when it’s not one thing that’s absolutely depicted, it’s there and it’s talked about. I used to be fairly struck by the veracity of it.”

In crafting Damon’s character as properly, the objective was to seize nuance fairly than cliche. A proud gun-owning oil employee from center America, Baker is sort of a caricature within the eyes of these he meets in Marseille. (Requested at one level if he voted for Trump, Baker says no however solely as a result of he had felonies that made him ineligible to vote.) However because the movie progresses these preconceptions begin to break down.

Matt Damon stands with his hands in his pockets.

Matt Damon photographed on the JW Marriott in Cannes, France. “Stillwater” premiered on the Cannes Worldwide Movie Pageant 2021.

(Stephanie Cornfield / For The Occasions)

It didn’t imply we had been ever going to agree politically about something. However they gave us unimaginable entry to their lives, and that’s what we wanted to go away with, an actual understanding of this man.

Matt Damon

“The form of work we’ve completed in our movies is to take folks which can be normally mocked or that some folks would look right down to after which make them the heroes,” stated Bidegain. “In the event you take a man like Invoice and he modifies 5 levels in the appropriate route, that provides you religion in your complete humanity.”

Whereas Damon’s liberal political leanings are well-known, he tried to create an empathetic, three-dimensional portrait of Baker, knowledgeable by real-life roughnecks he and McCarthy bought to know throughout a analysis journey to Oklahoma earlier than capturing.

“They had been naturally and fully justifiably cautious at first, like, ‘What’s occurring right here? Are you going to have a go at us?’“ Damon stated. “However as soon as they noticed what the film was, they wished me to get it proper. It didn’t imply we had been ever going to agree politically about something. However they gave us unimaginable entry to their lives, and that’s what we wanted to go away with, an actual understanding of this man.”

As deep because the divisions in American society are — and as morally murky as “Stillwater” could also be in the long run — Damon stated his expertise in Oklahoma gathering particulars to construct his character left him feeling optimistic.

“I at all times depart these analysis journeys with the very same takeaway, which is that the issues that bind us are a lot larger than the issues that divide us,” Damon stated. “You permit actually pissed off at politicians for stoking these divides. Yeah, we’ve political variations however the guys we frolicked with had been actually good folks with stunning households. The concept that we’re so completely different that we couldn’t probably sit down and have a cup of espresso collectively is loopy.”



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