Whenever I hear Matt Damon is starring in a film, I know chances are I’m going to be interested just based on previous performances. Stillwater sounded intriguing based on the premise but add in Matt Damon and I wanted to see it even before I saw the trailers. After watching, I can guarantee Matt Damon’s performance alone is worth watching this movie. His portrayal is stellar and the other performances are equally good. The film explores the idea of the ‘Ugly American’ in interesting ways while the thriller aspects have an unexpected rhythm and kept me guessing much longer than I anticipated.
Stillwater is an American crime drama directed by Tom McCarthy, based on a script he co-wrote with Marcus Hinchey, Thomas Bidegain, and Noé Debré. The film, loosely based on the story of Amanda Knox, follows an American oil-rig roughneck Bill Baker (Matt Damon) as he travels to Marseille, France to visit his estranged daughter, Alison (Abigail Breslin) in prison for a murder of an Arab schoolmate, she claims she didn’t commit. As Bill attempts to assist her in finding evidence, he is confronted with language barriers, cultural differences, and a complicated legal system. He reaches out to a woman he meets at his hotel, Virginie (Camille Cottin), for assistance in translation. He gets to know her and her daughter Maya (Lilou Siauvaud) and moves in with them when he relocates permanently to France to help his daughter. As he struggles with finding evidence, he must figure out just how far he is willing to go and what he might be willing to sacrifice in order to exonerate Alison.
Even though this is labeled a crime drama, there is much of the story that falls under the thriller genre. One of the elements that I like the most is that the movie keeps you guessing as to Alison’s innocence or guilt. Until the end of the film, the writers don’t reveal the truth. So ultimately the story is about how far a father would go to help prove his daughter’s innocence. Whether she is guilty never occurs to Bill and that creates intrigue throughout the film. The estrangement between them also prevents Bill from questioning her as he is so invested in creating a bond with Alison. I won’t give away the truth but the reveal does keep you guessing until the very end.
The other part of why the film is so intriguing is the concepts that are explored throughout. When Bill arrives, he knows nothing of the language and culture. He stumbles around trying to get information to help Alison but ends up making matters worse. Part of it is his behavior, very much the picture of the ‘Ugly American’, waving privilege around and never questioning his right to answers. He soon realizes he needs help, though, and as he attempts to navigate the legal systems, it is his relationship with Maya and Virginie that becomes the focus as Maya becomes a substitute for his failed relationship with Alison. The film explores that father-daughter relationship deftly, highlighting how Bill wasn’t there for his daughter but as he makes a place in France, is able to take care of Maya in ways he wasn’t for Alison, taking her to school, playing with her and taking care of her when Virginie is working. It is beautiful how each relationship is developed, including between Bill and Alison as well as between him and Virginie as they become intimate. Ultimately, the relationship with his daughter must be weighed against the new family he has created.
The acting is phenomenal. Matt Damon truly embraces the character of Bill Baker, becoming almost another person, including the way he moves and talks. I’ve rarely seen an actor transform so completely into another person but Matt Damon does so in this role. His dynamic and chemistry with Camille Cottin and Lilou Siauvaud is amazing. His interactions with Maya are beautiful while the slow build of friendship between his character and Camille’s is realistic and engaging. Camille Cottin gives an incredible performance as well, funny and charming in the role but fiercely protective in her role as Maya’s mother. Lilou Siauvaud is compelling, her portrayal prodigious considering her age. She is incredibly talented. And Abigail Breslin is almost unrecognizable as Alison. She is stunning in the role. The performances are equal to the story in what drives and creates an incredible film.
While the film is compelling, the pacing is slower for those looking for a more action-packed movie. The pacing to me is appropriate for building the relationships in the movie and the intrigue of Alison’s innocence. It takes time to build a realistic dynamic and the film wouldn’t have worked if it had rushed through Bill’s time with Maya and Virginie. We have to understand what he could lose if he pursues proving Alison’s innocence. We also need time to understand the relationship between him and Alison, why their dynamic is so broken along with the sins of Bill’s past, and his need to make up with Alison for his past mistakes. So while the film is longer than I would prefer, it makes sense in the end.
If you like incredible character studies, films about crime with thriller aspects, or any movie Matt Damon is in, this is the movie for you to watch. Matt Damon’s performance is impressive in his ability to have become his character. The plot is dynamic and compelling. The writing explores the clash of cultures between America and Europe in an authentic way. I found it incredibly intriguing and loved the exploration of what a father will do for his daughter.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 necklaces
STILLWATER follows Bill, an American oil-rig roughneck from Oklahoma (Matt Damon), who travels to Marseille to visit his estranged daughter (Abigail Breslin), in prison for a murder she claims she did not commit. Confronted with language barriers, cultural differences, and a complicated legal system, Bill builds a new life for himself in France as he makes it his personal mission to exonerate his daughter. STILLWATER is directed by Tom McCarthy and stars Matt Damon, Abigail Breslin, Camille Cottin, Deanna Dunagan. STILLWATER will be released exclusively in theaters on Friday, July 30, 2021.
ONE-LINER: A father travels from Oklahoma to France to help his estranged daughter, who is in prison for a murder she claims she didn’t commit.