'Stillwater' Doesn't Run Deep Enough, Despite Matt Damon's Great Performance Directed by Tom McCarthy
Starring Matt Damon, Abigail Breslin, Camille Cottin, Lilou Siauvaud
Published Jul 30, 2021Matt Damon is, above all else, a consistent actor. He will always turn in a strong performance regardless of how the movie turns out. He's also a strange aberration of being a movie star primarily because of his work and not his personal life (save perhaps his association with Ben Affleck). Damon is an actor that quietly goes about his business and still commands A-list Hollywood status. After 25 years of this treatment, it's truly a wonder that he is able to disappear into roles as well as he does in Stillwater.
Damon plays Bill Baker, a roughneck from Oklahoma whose daughter, Allison (Abigail Breslin), is serving a sentence for murder in Marseilles, France. On a visit to his daughter, Allison informs Bill of a potential lead in the case that could exonerate her. She asks Bill to seek out her lawyer to investigate. The lawyer believes that Bill and Allison should focus on acceptance rather than trying to re-open the case, resulting in Bill taking it upon himself to prove his daughter innocent.
As Bill attempts to navigate the foreign country, he connects with a French woman, Virginie (an absolutely sublime Camille Cottin), and her daughter, Maya (magnetic newcomer Lilou Siauvaud). Bill stays in Marseilles in an effort to help his daughter and builds an idyllic domestic life with Virginie, and he also develops a paternal bond with Maya that he never forged with Allison.
Stillwater is inspired by the case of Amanda Knox, though doesn't spend much time on Allison's experience in prison, and oddly, she is the least interesting character in the movie. Rather, the film focuses on Bill's acclimation to French culture with some good humoured fish-out-of-water antics, and his personal journey to becoming a better man and father.
Damon is really fantastic as Bill Baker. He hides behind a goatee and under a grubby baseball cap, employing a good Oklahoma accent (to this Canadian's ear anyways) that doesn't pull focus. Audiences are able to forget that Bill Baker is Matt Damon, and simply settle into the story of a midwestern American with a rough past just trying to do right by his family.
Director Tom McCarthy does a good job of balancing the two parts of Bill's story and showing the gritty reality of Marseilles very well. The authentic interpretation of the French port city, and its underlying racial tension, can most likely be credited to the screenwriting team, which includes Thomas Bidegain, the writer behind the French film Un prophète.
While the story Bidegain and team set out is good for the most part, Stillwater's ending takes a sharp turn that doesn't feel earned. The decisions made are a departure from the characters we've grown with in the film, and the biggest bombshell of the movie is addressed very quickly and without fanfare. For a film that felt grounded in domesticity for the majority of its runtime, the suspension of disbelief it requires of its audience is sudden.
Stillwater is an entertaining movie despite its third act issues. Damon's performance alone though is something to cherish, as his quiet portrayal of a "normal American" somehow feels unique today. It wouldn't be surprising if Damon comes up during awards season, but Stillwater almost certainly won't. (Focus)