Aug. 2, 2021

"Stillwater" Plugged With Plot Holes

      I liked the new Matt Damon film, Stillwater. It was beautifully shot and nicely acted. That said, the writer in me couldn't help but flag some creative choices that felt force, lazy, or outright unbelievable. (I prefer the polite term "creative choices" to the more commonly-used "script holes a mile wide.")

      So either bail before the SPOILERS below or get ready to join me for a little post-mortum on Hollywood movie logic. Here goes:

  • It's established early on that Bill's daughter Allison has already spent five years in an French prison and has four more to go. That makes a full sentence of nine years. For a brutal stabbing murder? O.J. Simpson got 9 years for merely stealing back his own Heisman Trophy (at gunpoint), and Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin got 22 1/2 years for murdering George Floyd. Heck, even Amanda Knox, on whom the script is clearly based, got 26 years in Italy before her conviction was overturned. So how did Allie get away with a 9-year slap on the wrists for a pretty heinous crime?

  • A criminal defense attorney tells her client’s father that his daughter should just learn to “accept” her murder conviction and not try for an appeal based on new evidence? Have you ever met a criminal defense attorney?

  • Allie blows up at her dad for trying to find the real killer but not “calling the police” when it’s pretty obvious that he'd been badly beaten up in the process of tracking down the suspect. Yet Bill says nothing in his defense. How about, “Hey, the reason I couldn’t ‘call the police’ was I was literally getting the shit kicked out of me by eight of his friends at the time. So it wasn’t a real convenient moment to speed-dial the cops. Besides, I am the only person in the world who is actually trying to get you out of jail. Your attorney turned you down, your grandmother has given up, the police won’t help, and no one else even believes your story. So why are you mad at me for risking my life to get you out of prison? That’s what dads are supposed to do.”

  • The detective Bill hires for six thousand euros inexplicably decides to turn on him and try to track down and save the kidnapped murder suspect. Why? The screenwriters did establish that he was suspicious of how Bill got the hair sample, and he did point out to Bill that getting the suspect's DNA sample through illegal means would make it inadmissible in court. But in a later scene he witnesses for himself how racist, biased, close-minded, and stupid the police who investigated the murder were toward Bill’s daughter. So why does he suddenly — and with no reason — try to backstab his client?

  • Just a few scenes later, we learn that the detective who was trying to frame Bill actually got the DNA evidence checked out and proved that the new suspect was indeed at the crime scene. So he was screwing Bill over at the exact same time he was working to help him? Why?

  • We learn that Virginie found and released the kidnapped suspect a day before the cops showed up to search for him. So why didn’t she confront Bill that night? Why wait until after the police show up? 

  • If Virginie knew that her daughter would have to lie to the police, why did she consent to the little girl being interrogated? She clearly could have objected. Why put her daughter through that experience?

Now let’s back up and talk about Bill and Virginie’s relationship. This part of the script logic discussion is admittedly subjective. But humor me.

  • Why were two French women so shocked that a man from the American south owns a gun? France has the twelfth highest rate of gun ownership in the world. (About one in five French people own a gun, which is higher than Syria, Somalia, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, El Salvador, Northern Ireland, Russia, and even Cambodia.

  • Why is the unemployed actress too busy from 4-6PM every day to care for her daughter but the full-time construction worker is free?

  • Who entrusts an eight-year old girl’s after school care to a male stranger whose adult daughter may have committed a gruesome stabbing murder? And what caring mother would let an adult male take her daughter down to an abandoned basement every day and not have at least some concerns?

  • I understand that Bill was in the basement trying to fix Virginie’s circuit board, but that’s a 2-day job at most. So why did he and Maya continue to go down to the basement every day for four straight months?

  • Then of course there's the amazing coincidence of spotting the murder suspect just a few rows away at a soccer game, being able to follow him undetected for blocks on end, being able to confront him on an empty street just moments after the massive, delirious soccer crowd piled out of the stadium into those same streets, and the tired trope of the one-punch knockout. And the suspect never came to consciousness to scream or kick for help while in the van? That was one helluva punch! Even boxers who got knocked out by Mike Tyson regained consciousness in 10-60 seconds. A one-hour knockout by an amatuer puncher is superhero movie silliness.

  • Finally, while Allie and her grandmother paint Bill as a lifelong incompetent f**k-up, he sure proved to be amazingly competent at everything he does...including international detective work.

      At this point, the reader is likely thinking, Hell, Kev, it's just a movie – why be so nitpicky?" Okay, that's fair. And as I said at the top, I truly did enjoy the movie and the experience of watching it in a theater.

      But screenwriters Tom McCarthy, Marcus Hinchey, Thomas Bidegain and Noé Debré likely earned north of three million dollars for their effort, and Damon and the movie's other producers earned tens of millions more to make sure the film's story was sound. If I can turn their plot into Swiss cheese, I think they could've gone the extra mile to caulk a couple of those gaping story holes.

      A proud, hardworking American construction pro like Bill Baker should expect nothing less. Nor should movie goers.