(director/writer: Tom McCarthy; screenwriters: Marcus Hinchey, Thomas Bidegain, Noé Debré; cinematographer: Masanobu Takayanagi; editor: Tom McArdle; music: Mychael Danna; cast: Matt Damon (Bill Baker), Camille Cottin (Virginie), Abigail Breslin (Allison), Lilou Siauvaud (Maya), Deanna Dunagan (Sharon), Idir Azoughi (Akim); Runtime: 140; MPAA Rating: R; producers; Steve Golin, Tom McCarthy, Jonathan King, Liza Chasin: DreamWorks/A Focus Features release; 2021)
“A strained but marginally good at times crime drama with an international flavoring on how America is currently perceived in the world.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A strained but marginally good at times crime drama with an international flavoring on how America is currently perceived in the world. It’s curiously directed by Tom McCarthy (“Spotlight”/”The Cobbler”), who wisely teams up on the script with his fellow American, Marcus Hinchy, and the top screenwriter working in France today, Thomas Bidegain (“A Prophet”), and his writing partner Noé Debré. This timely collaboration saves the uneven film from being too one-sided American and at least lets us see what the French think of Americans.
Bill Baker (Matt Damon, going against type is fine as a loser) is a no nonsense screw-up God-fearing roughneck from Stillwater, Oklahoma; he’s a recovering addict, whose troubled suicidal daughter Allison (Abigail Breslin), even though she says she’s innocent, has been in a French prison in Marseille for five years following a conviction when as a student she was convicted of murdering her lesbian Arab-French working-class girlfriend and roommate Lina. Bill regrets he failed his daughter when raising her and vows to try and make up for that now, and will stop at nothing to rescue her from prison. Nevertheless, she does not trust dad and bitterly recalls mom’s suicide.
Bill flies to France and plans to spend two-weeks to help her when a new lead is uncovered. To be his translator and help him with understanding the French legal system, Bill gets his new lady friend, Virginie (Camille Cottin), the French stage actress and single mom, with the nine-year-old daughter Maya (Lilou Siauvaud), that he meets in the Best Western hotel he is staying at, to come along with him on his rescue mission and she does so because he relates so well to her daughter.
The plot recalls the 2007 Amanda Knox murder trial in Italy, where the American coed abroad served five years of a nine year sentence for allegedly murdering her college girlfriend (the same sentence dished out in this fiction piece).
We follow the Damon character as he investigates clues and even confronts at a soccer match a prime male suspect, the one his daughter says is the killer (Idir Azoughi). Damon is always in character wearing a baseball cap, as he takes detours that lead him down some dark roads in the complexities of Marseille’s social, racial and political stratas.
With no results to show, Bill extends his visit and is still there four months later, even getting work at construction sites to pay expenses. For me, the film was saved from oblivion by adding some heft when the narrative seemed to take on a more French tone, as it uncovers romantic and paternal ties in its search for the truth.
The crime drama was well-received with thunderous applause by the audiences at the Cannes Film Festival, which should tell you how the Hollywood film is viewed by the French.
REVIEWED ON 7/12/2021 GRADE: B –