Director: Tom McCarthy
Runtime: 138 minutes
Cast: Matt Damon, Abigail Breslin, Camille Cottin, Lilou Siavaud, Deanna Dunagan,Idir Azougli
Synopsis: An American oil-rig roughneck travels to Marseille, France, to visit his estranged daughter, in prison for a murder she claims she didn’t commit. Confronted with language barriers, cultural differences and a complicated legal system, he soon builds a new life for himself, as he makes it his personal mission to exonerate her.
From Oscar-winning writer/director Tom McCarthy (Spotlight) comes Stillwater, a powerful and moving suspense film starring Matt Damon and Abigail Breslin. With his estranged daughter Allison (Breslin) imprisoned in Marseille for a murder she insists she did not commit, unemployed oil-rig worker Bill Baker (Damon) makes periodic visits to deliver supplies and news. But when Allison presents her father with a new lead, he takes matters into his own hands and attempts to exonerate his daughter. Confronted with a foreign land he does not understand nor belong in, Bill struggles in his mission until he meets French actress Virginie [Camille Cottin – Call My Agent 2015-20)], mother to eight-year-old Maya (Lilou Siauvaud). Together, these unlikely allies embark on a journey of discovery, truth, love and liberation.
Stillwater is essentially a drama about family, forgiveness and unconditional love.
Matt Damon inhabits the role of Bill Baker – an unemployed oil rig roughneck from Oklahoma who has lived a hard life marred by drug and alcohol abuse.
When the film opens, Bill is trying to make ends meet working construction, cleaning up debris from a twister that’s just blown through town. Bill is a roughneck, a mainstay in the Oklahoma workforce. He dropped out of high school to work on an oil rig like his father. He lives alone, maintaining a low profile, perpetually hunting for his next job. Yet, after visiting his mother-in law, Sharon (Deanna Dunagan)—who raised his daughter Allison from age four after her mother committed suicide—Bill unexpectedly travels from Stillwater, Oklahoma, to Marseille, France.
Allison seizes on a new piece of evidence that could exonerate her of her girlfriend Lena’s murder and presses Bill to engage their lawyer. But when their lawyer rebuffs them, Bill takes matters into his own hands and makes it his personal mission to find the real culprit—a man Allison has identified as Akim. Confronted with language barriers and cultural differences, Bill is outmatched until he strikes up an unlikely friendship with French theatre actress Virginie (Camille Cottin) and her young daughter Maya (Lilou Siauvaud).
As he combs the streets of Marseille searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack, Bill finds himself on an unexpected path, growing ever closer to Virginie and Maya. It’s a journey of self-discovery and liberation from a life that long seemed preordained.
Bill becomes a man learning how to be a dad through this new relationship he has with a young French girl. Yet when his need to prove his daughter’s innocence collides with his commitment to Virginie and Maya, he is left with only difficult choices that not only threaten to destroy his new life, but also his last shot at redemption.
Bill continues to chase down leads that could help him apprehend the young man that Allison insists is guilty of Lena’s murder. He’s willing to go to any lengths to track down his target, even if it means visiting the gritty, dangerous housing projects where Akim (Idir Azougli) reportedly lives.
Director of Photography, Masanobu Takayanagi beautifully captures many of
Marseille’s signature locations, like the 67,000-capacity Stade Vélodrome, home of the beloved football club Olympique de Marseille (OM) where he takes Maya; and
the Calanques, an area of rocky cliffs and bays between the city of Marseille and the town of Cassis, where Bill also takes Allison on an outing as part of a special release program designed to help her transition back into society.
As Stillwater unfolds, the film becomes an intriguing blend of character drama, low-key romance, thriller and procedural. Essentially it is a film about human nature and what dictates the decisions people make, and how morality can be corrupted by one’s past, society, and love of family. It is a film that addresses the longing to be loved and needed.
Stillwater has a thoughtful approach to intelligent themes in the script by Thomas Bidegain [A Prophet; Rust and Bone] and his writing partner Noé Debré. It has strong, impressive acting performances from its leads, and a suspenseful narrative that offsets its rather slow pace and long running time.
Images courtesy of: Entertainment One UK