Director: Tom McCarthy
Starring: Matt Damon, Abigail Breslin, Camille Cottin, Lilou Siauvaud
Written by: Tom McCarthy, Marcus Hinchey, Thomas Bidegain and Noe Debre
Running Time: 139 mins
Release date: 6th August 2021
Stillwater is the new film by Tom McCarthy, who directed the Oscar-winning Spotlight. Taking the story directly from the news pages, as he did in his brilliant 2015 drama, Stillwater isn’t necessarily based on another true story. Still, there have been accusations surrounding similar events involving Amanda Knox. Even director McCarthy has come out and said he was inspired by the American imprisoned for murder in a foreign country. Yet this isn’t about the plight of the accused, but a father determined to seek the truth.
Bill Baker is a hard-working, religious man from Oklahoma who heads to Marseille to visit his daughter, Allison, imprisoned for murdering her lover. While on a routine trip, Bill discovers a vital clue that the French courts have not looked into that could prove her innocence. Yet he’s a stranger in a strange land, and with no one to help him, he turns to French actress Virginie and her daughter, Maya. As his investigation grows ever frustrating, he will do anything to find the answer he wants.
Accepting that actual event may inspire the film, the focal point is Bill. A simple man with his demons. His family is in tatters, and the reasons why Allison went to France in the first place becomes apparent as the story moves on. The relationship between father and daughter is strained, with Allison not wanting Bill to know about the new evidence. Yet Bill is but persistent and refuses to allow his girl to languish in prison. The only problem is Bill doesn’t speak the language, doesn’t know who he is looking for and puts himself in danger as he goes into areas unfamiliar.
McCarthy’s film is a fascinating tale of the desperation of a father, yet the problem with the film is it doesn’t know what it wants to be as far as tone and genre. Moving from family drama to thriller to romance to revenge drama, it sometimes becomes a little jarring. It also suffers from being a long haul as moments of the film are slowly drawn out. However, McCarthy’s direction is unfussy and straightforward, allowing the characters and relationships to develop. Bill’s guilt for his past makes him form a fatherly relationship with the young Maya, while he finds support from Virginie, a woman who wants to help Bill.
Lilou Siauvaud is a delight as Maya, the young girl who befriends Bill, have some of the sweetest moments when they teach each other French and English in a grimy basement full of tools. Camille Cottin, known for her role in Netflix’s Call the Agent, is perfect as the woman who tries to help the American. Abigail Breslin, who has grown into a terrific actress from her younger breakthrough, Little Miss Sunshine, is excellent as Allison, even if her screen time is limited.
However, it is Matt Damon as Bill who makes the film work so well. A man of few words and yet a sense of trying to do right. Dressed in a baseball cap, checked shirt tucked into his jeans and standing out among the French locals, he makes you sympathise with his plight. He is a flawed man, who thinks he is doing the right thing, but his mistakes could make matters worse; you desperately want him to achieve the correct result. It’s one of Damon’s best performances in years.
Stillwater is a film that doesn’t know what it wants to be, yet it takes you on a journey of a man’s desperation. It may not have the same success or impact as McCarthy’s Spotlight, but it is a decent drama that will please those looking for more than your usual blockbusters.
4 out of 5