Entertainment One presents Stillwater in UK cinemas now.
Unemployed roughneck Bill Baker (Academy Award® winner Matt Damon) travels from Oklahoma to Marseille to visit his estranged daughter Allison (Academy Award® nominee Abigail Breslin). Imprisoned for a murder she claims she did not commit. Allison seizes on a new tip that could exonerate her and presses Bill to engage her legal team But Bill eager to prove his worth and regain his daughters trust, takes matters into his own hands. He is quickly stymied by language barriers, cultural differences, and a complicated legal system until he meets French actress Virginie (Camille Cottin), mother to eight-year-old Maya (Lilou Siauvaud). Together, these unlikely allies embark on a journey of discovery, truth, love and liberation.
Matt Damon really has been one of the biggest and most influential actors of the last fifty years. Having been nominated for five Oscars and winning one of those for his performance in Good Will Hunting, for the past few years he has moved towards doing cameos or smaller roles in movies such as Interstellar and Thor: Ragnarok. However, after getting lots of recognition for his performance in the Best Picture nominated movie, Ford v Ferrari (aka Le Mans ’66 in the UK), Damon is coming back with one of the best performances of his career in Tom McCarthy’s Stillwater.
After receiving a six minute standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival, McCarthy’s follow up to Disney’s Timmy Failure movie is vastly different in terms of its target demographic and subject matter. Based off the successful kids’ books, the former movie is a child-friendly adventure about a young boy with an imaginary polar bear as his friend, while Stillwater focuses on a father trying to get his daughter out of a French prison for a murder she didn’t commit. The two movies are so incredibly different and I am so thankful that this is a return to form for the director after directing the Best Picture winner, Spotlight, six years ago.
Matt Damon is splendid here delivering his finest performance in years as a roughneck father desperate to do whatever it takes to get his daughter out of jail so she can return to America and continue her life. Within the opening thirty minutes, you see Bill’s (Damon) day-to-day life and it establishes the relationship he has with his daughter Allison (played by Abigail Breslin – Little Miss Sunshine, Zombieland). From their first scene together, it is clear there is distance between the two characters from the way they interact; neither really know what to say and their chemistry seems a little off. From there, you can see their relationship grow and witness the highs and lows of the situation they are in.
While Breslin isn’t in the film as much as you’d think, she does act as the heart and soul of Stillwater making and is the reason all the characters interweave and come together. Whenever she is on-screen, she has many scenes to bring the emotional aspect to the forefront. There are a few scenes that she shares with Damon’s Bill and Camille Cottin’s Virginie that really show how her life has led to this point and how the murder of the girl she loved has impacted her five years later.
However, the studio really did falsely market what this film actually is. In the trailer, Stillwater was shown to be a fast-paced thriller about a man looking to get answers behind his daughter’s sentence yet the film is actually a slow-paced two hour and twenty minute story that deals with family, love and loss while the investigation isn’t front and centre of the film. The relationship between Bill, Virginie and her young daughter, Maya, is what drives this film. As you move into the second half of the film and the tension begins to build, you can feel that relationship grow and see that also be put to the test due to the circumstances.
But, with that being said, the movie is way too long. Clocking in just under two and a half hours long there was twenty minutes that could’ve been shaved off during the second act that would’ve made the pacing tighter. There is a lot of meandering through the streets of Marseille that wasn’t really needed and didn’t do anything to progress the story. It does feel a little bit clunky whenever these moments were happening and incredibly unnecessary when the story has a sense of urgency flowing through it.
All in all, Stillwater is a long, tense, slow-burn that paid off by the time the third act clicks into gear. Matt Damon and Abigail Breslin give some of the best performances of their careers and the way the relationship between Damon’s Bill Baker and the excellent supporting cast is what drives the film. The runtime is far too bloated for its own good and easily could’ve lost twenty minutes to make the pacing a little tighter yet this is a superb return to form for Tom McCarthy that will leave you devastated by the end.
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