director: tom mccarthy (spotlight)
starring: matt damon, camille cottin, Lilou Siauvaud and abigail breslin
REVIEWER: lyall carter
A father travels from Oklahoma to France to help his estranged daughter, who is in prison for a murder she claims she didn't commit.
Tom McCarthy’s Oscar winning drama Spotlight based on the true story of investigative journalists who uncover abuse in the Catholic church in Boston is one of my favorite movies with an all star cast and riveting narrative. So when I heard that McCarthy was teaming up with Damon it seemed like a match made in heaven. And broadly speaking Stillwater is up there with some of McCarthy and Damon’s best work. Despite it’s pacing and that it doesn’t pack as much of an emotional punch as expected, Stillwater is still a slow burning sensation with Damon in career best, top form.
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.
With echoes of the infamous Amanda Knox case, Stillwater has a gritty, realism that is rarely found in mainstream, dramatic films these days. Although the film has a slow but steady pace, McCarthy gives time to Damon’s Bill Baker and not only his battle to clear his daughters name, again given room to breathe and unfold realistically in its portrayal, but also the development of his relationship with Virginie and Maya, a French woman and her daughter that help Baker out.
The narrative is one that pulls you in with you wondering if Allison, Bill’s daughter, really did commit the crime of which she was accused and whether there will be any justice or resolution given to those questions.
But even with the time given to character and relational development, the emotional punches don’t quite hook you in the way that you’d expect from a tale such as this or based on McCarthy and even Damon’s previous work. There are themes explored that are broad in their scope from America’s place and reputation in the world to the frailty, beauty and dysfunction that is to be found in all human relationships.
It takes a particularly talented actor who is at the very top of his craft to pull off a performance that is not only believable but endears you to the character as Damon has here. Bill is a salt of the earth, working class guy who’s quiet, reserved and only speaks when it's absolutely necessary. Damon disappears into the role beneath the goatee, baseball cap and thick accent and gives the audience a man that many of us could recognise from our everyday lives. It’s a truly magnificent performance and one of Damon’s best.
Despite it’s pacing and that it doesn’t pack as much of an emotional punch as expected, Stillwater is still a slow burning sensation with Damon in career best, top form.