Director: Tom McCarthy
Starring: Matt Damon, Camille Cottin, Abigail Breslin, Lilou Siauvaud
Run Time: 140 mins
Stillwater is the long awaited follow-up from writer-director Tom McCarthy, after his last film Spotlight won the Best Picture Oscar back in 2016. Spotlight was an enthralling exploration into the journalism of a worldwide church scandal, boasting some fine performances and a powerful narrative.
Stillwater draws parallels to the Amanda Knox case, attracting criticism. Matt Damon plays unemployed oil-rig worker Bill Baker who frequently journeys to Marseille from the small town of Stillwater, Oklahoma to visit his daughter, Allison Baker (Abigail Breslin). Allison is five years into her nine year prison sentence after being convicted of killing her university roommate, Lina. Bill is a man of few words and works in order to afford the trips to France. When Bill is in France on a visit, there is an opportunity for the case to be reopened and he fights for his daughter to be exonerated. He has difficulty with the language barrier and the French bureaucracy system. Many locals in the city are aware of the case and know what his daughter did. After a fortuitous chain of events, befriends Virginie (Camille Cottin) and her young daughter, Maya and they all take a reciprocal liking to each other.
Stillwater is an excellent crime drama that is played on a more human scale and centres on one of Matt Damon’s best performances. It is a satisfying yet painful narrative and the character relationships are admirably developed, particularly between Bill, Virginie and Maya. Bill is essentially given a second chance at fatherhood, after he proclaims that he screwed up in the past.
Abigail Breslin’s convicted murderer isn’t as prominent a figure as the premise would suggest. Her performance is mournful yet cold and it is not inconceivable that her character is capable of committing such a crime. Still, Bill sticks up for his daughter and continues his plight for her exonerance. Stillwater tests its characters time and time again. This interrogation of innocence is the greatest success of the film as it asks questions that have no black and white answers
Technically, Masanobu Takayanagi’s cinematography is superb and he beautifully captures the vistas of Southern France with the rougher areas of the divided city of Marseille. Mychael Danna’s score is thoughtful and he crafts some fitting themes.
Stillwater is ultimately a deft melding of the action and revenge thriller genres and is a very interesting project for Tom McCarty to take on following his Awards success. It’s not flawless – there is an attempted suicide where the consequences of it are not explored or even discussed which is a missed opportunity. Still, the film kept me enthralled throughout and won me over with its deep and authentic exploration of its characters. If you can accept the fact that Stillwater is merely inspired from Amanda Knox and doesn’t follow the case to the letter, then you have what is one of the best films of the year.