Like director Tom McCarthy’s previous films, Stillwater displays an unpleasant yet intriguing mood. The premise of this dark thriller is harrowing, the plot is gripping, and it is the perfect film to display Matt Damon’s ability to play a complex character.
Stillwater stars Damon and it is set mostly in Marseille, France. The film focuses on Bill Baker, played by Damon. Bill lives in Oklahoma and goes to Marseille to visit his daughter Allison, played by Abigail Breslin. She is in a French prison for murder, and Allison believes she has evidence that would exonerate herself. This puts Bill on a mission to trace the events surrounding the crime. But Bill soon begins his own life in France when he falls in love with a French woman named Virginie, played by Camille Cottin. She had been Bill’s translator and her involvement leads to some dramatic scenarios that put both Bill and Virginie at risk, and make life in prison more difficult for Allison.
Stillwater is emotionally moving and well-acted, but the differences in the law between France and the United States can sometimes make the film confusing. Despite that occasional confusion, the film had me enthralled. And the legal differences can actually sometimes make Stillwater more intriguing, because it gives Bill multiple hurdles to clearing his daughter. The film often feels like a race for Bill to prove Allison’s innocence.
Stillwater is loosely based on the true story of American Amanda Knox’s case and that connection, combined with the disturbing and sometimes depressing realism of Stillwater, had me feeling the pain and frustration that Damon’s character had throughout the film, as well as the pain and frustration of Breslin’s character. Stillwateris not a feel-good movie, but it is a realistic representation of how challenging it can be when life goes awry.
Stillwater is visually beautiful and the cinematography is brilliant. During my 2016 internship at the Cannes Film Festival I had the privilege of roaming much of the vast scenery around Marseille depicted in Stillwater, and maybe that is why I found some light in this dark film. The film could be hard to watch at times, but it was in-depth, moving, and a worthy watch, and it will speak to many people. It just may be a one time watch for many, including me. Three stars for Stillwater.