"Stillwater" stars Matt Damon, Camille Cottin, Lilou Siauvaud, Deanna Dunagan, and Abigail Breslin. Released on July 30, 2021, the film has an oil worker attempting to clear his daughter's name.
The film was directed by Tom McCarthy, who also directed films such as "The Visitor", "Win Win", and "Spotlight". We're all willing to do whatever it takes to save the ones we love, even if it means losing the trust of others in the process. In some cases, however, that can only get us so far. Tom McCarthy is at it again with his latest drama that'll surely fill people's hearts with the feels and land him back into the Oscars. After being delayed by a year due to the pandemic, the film finally made its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival a few weeks ago. Based on the early reviews it received, it seemed that the wait might have been worth it. Considering how much I enjoyed McCarthy's work so far, that's a pretty good accomplishment. But was it good enough for me to make it three for three for the director? Let's find out.
The story centers on Bill Baker (Damon), an unemployed oil worker from Oklahoma. He has been regularly visiting his estranged daughter Allison (Breslin) in a Marseille prison. It is revealed that Allison is falsely accused of killing her roommate and is serving her four-year sentence. During his visit, Allison gives Bill a note that could play a key role in her exoneration. With the help of a resident named Virginie (Cottin), Bill sets out to prove his daughter's innocence and track down the suspect responsible. The film could be easily identified as a crime drama that offers plenty of non-stop thrills based on its plot and marketing. While there were some heart-pounding moments that'll leave its viewers speechless, the film took a risky approach of emphasizing the human drama more than the traditional search-the-real-murderer aspect. The risk happened to pay off as Tom McCarthy delivered another captivating drama that showcased the actors' talents and thoughtful themes. Although, its execution may not work for everyone. The people who are hoping to see a consistently intense investigation drama may leave the film feeling a bit disappointed, if not bored. The investigation and mystery aspects only appeared in the first and third acts. The middle part played out like a non-traditional family drama about Bill's relationship with Virginie and her daughter Maya, played by Siauvaud. On the one hand, I did feel that the middle part would've been more suitable as a separate movie. On the other hand, it's a solid effort to humanize the characters and their chemistry thanks to McCarthy's direction and the cast, even though it can be unfocused at times. The film was over two hours long, which could be due to its second act. While the story was compelling enough to keep me engaged, it can also be a bit of a chore to sit through regarding the pacing, especially if you're one of the people who desire more thrills in its storytelling. Aside from those minor issues, I found it to be a well-made and engaging character study about the consequences of secrecy and the guilt that drives from it. Matt Damon was a marvel to witness as Bill in terms of both his performance and his accent. His chances of going for Oscar gold may be slim in my eyes, but he should deserve some credit for making Bill into a determined yet flawed father figure. Camille Cottin and Lilou Siauvaud also made their presence highly watchable as Virginie and Maya, respectively, and Breslin delivered a heartfelt performance as Allison. Another thing I want to mention is something that's connected to the film itself. Its story was loosely based on Amanda Knox's similar experience, and it received some controversy for profiting off her wrongful conviction without her permission. While it's a good piece of filmmaking as its own movie, it's understandable that making a fictionalized version of someone's experience without their consent was embarrassingly troublesome. They should at least notify Knox first or leave a short description before or after the movie that the story is fictionalized or even both. It didn't hurt the film's quality that much personally, but they should've done something to soften the blow.
Overall, "Stillwater" didn't reach the high standards of "Spotlight", but it's no secret that it's an engaging and complex drama filled with heart and intrigue. It's admittedly overlong and unfocused during a couple of scenes, mainly in its second act. Nonetheless, it's a thoughtful showcase of its brilliant cast, themes, and McCarthy's directorial skills. If you enjoy this type of genre and like Damon as a leading actor, you might get some enjoyment out of this one.