PG Score: 7.5/10
Stillwater was released in theaters on 7/30/21
In Stillwater, Writer/Director Tom McCarthy (Spotlight and The Visitor) ventures outside his comfort zone with an engrossing international thriller revolving around family, redemption, and acceptance.
Loosely based on the story of Amanda Knox, the plot follows oil rig worker Bill Baker (Matt Damon) as he journeys from Oklahoma to France to aid his estranged daughter Allison (Abigail Breslin), who is imprisoned for a murder she claims she did not commit.
The movie is at its best when it is placing the viewer in Bill’s shoes as he is forced to make a series of harrowing decisions involving his daughter’s well-being. These moments evoke uncomfortable truths and push audiences to consider how far they would go to protect their loved ones. The constant viewer engagement helps the substantial 140-minute runtime smoothly move along. Clear-cut answers are hard to come by, and a great deal falls under a moral gray area. The details of the central ordeal are murky, and Stillwater thrives on the ambiguity.
McCarthy displays his range as this latest project lies outside his typical filmography. The thriller elements are effective and well-placed as they tonally mesh with the rest of the film. They are rarely exaggerated and build excitement without lessening the impact of the thought-provoking themes at the heart of the storyline. Driven home by McCarthy’s direction, the more intense scenes are heightened by the proper buildup that precedes them. Most importantly, they operate in perfect harmony with the movie’s dramatic components.
Elevated by potent performances and striking character development, the drama is enthralling throughout. The script packs an emotional punch that explores ideas to varying degrees. While some of the exchanges primarily function on a superficial level, others drill down much deeper. Plenty of conversations offer insight into characters’ pasts and principles while simultaneously analyzing broader topics on a macro scale. These dual-purpose interactions are among the best parts of Stillwater and showcase Tom McCarthy’s prowess as a filmmaker.
Damon shines as the gruff, fiercely dedicated Bill Baker. During his time in Marseille, he is a fish out of water, and Damon expertly captures his character’s unfamiliarity with his foreign surroundings. His hands-on research for the role pays massive dividends as the authenticity in his depiction of the roughneck at the center of the film is apparent from start to finish. His commanding screen presence is a major highlight and shows the Oscar winner’s versatility. This is a top-notch performance from the gifted actor and a prime example of his on-screen capabilities.
The supporting cast in Stillwater features a host of talent including Abigail Breslin, Camille Cottin, and newcomer Lilou Siauvaud. Breslin is the weak link as Bill’s daughter, Allison. Her acting is surprisingly hollow and pales in comparison to the work of her co-stars. It feels like a miscast, and given that she plays such a pivotal role, it is unfortunate that the opportunity was not awarded to someone more suited for the character. Cottin plays French local Virginie, who helps Damon’s Bill on his mission to exonerate his daughter. The Allied star delivers a strong performance and possesses significant chemistry with the leading man. Siauvaud makes her cinematic debut as Virginie’s daughter, Maya. The actress nails her first role as she supplies timely comedic relief and lands the more serious sequences. Her scenes with Damon provide some of the movie’s most poignant drama.
Powerful Acting and Deft Direction
Tom McCarthy diligently approaches the various themes and navigates the multilayered narrative with sure footing. Bolstered by a compelling performance from Matt Damon, Stillwater combines gripping suspense and stimulating drama to form a well-balanced, powerful film.