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Stillwater - Movie Review


What are you willing to sacrifice to protect your family? Are you willing to give up your freedom? Are you prepared to unequivocally accept the consequences of your singular actions? Does your answer change if you are in a foreign country?

"a powerful and moving drama about self-discovery and the lengths to which we are willing to go in order to free ourselves from a crappy life that seems pre-ordained from birth"


These are just some of the many questions broached in Tom McCarthy’s new film, Stillwater, a powerful and moving drama about self-discovery and the lengths to which we are willing to go in order to free ourselves from a crappy life that seems pre-ordained from birth.

If that sounds overtly thought-provoking and is not really what you expected from a Matt Damon thriller, that’s because it is. More about human nature and the choices we make than it is an action-oriented Bourne thriller, Stillwater represents a nice change of pace for Damon and a much-welcomed return to form for the Oscar winning actor who has been in quite a slump over the past few years. He is excellent here though, as he gradually ingratiates his character to the audience with a salt-of-the-earth naiveté rather than with his usual blunt confidence.

Damon is Bill Baker, an unemployed oil rig worker who we eventually learn is a flawed man struggling to escape his own past. Once a drug addict and convicted felon, Bill travels from Oklahoma to Marseilles, France to visit his daughter Allison (Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine) who has been imprisoned for a crime she insists she did not commit.

When he learns of a new lead that could exonerate his daughter, Bill jumps at the chance to take matters into his own hands. Overwhelming cultural differences, language barriers, and the complicated France legal system, eventually lead Bill to divorced French theater actress Virginie (Camille Cottin, I Kissed a Girl), who is mother to adolescent Maya (Lilou Siauvaud) and who shows interest in helping Bill track down the man who Allison says is responsible for the crime she claims she didn’t commit. For Bill, it’s a chance to prove to his daughter that he can finally do something right, and for Virginie, Bill represents a father for her child and bandaid for her broken heart.Stillwater

Primarily set in the beautiful port city of Marseilles on the Mediterranean, Stillwater also takes place in the titular college town in Oklahoma, the cultural dichotomy playing out in a multi-layered fashion as Damon’s biscuits-and-gravy Bill grows – albeit ever so slightly – the longer he stays in Marseille. McCarthy is very careful with his depiction of the port city, mostly staying away from its more glitzy parts in favor of the gritty, rough and tumble areas of the multi-cultural neighborhoods. Think the pit in The Wire, only in France. This is not by accident as racism, crime, and poverty – in both Marseille and Stillwater – are major characters in the story.

Also featuring Deanna Dunagan, Idir Azougli, and Anne Le Ny, the Stillwater cast is absolutely superb, with standout performances from both Damon and Cottin who have us rooting for them by the end, in spite of their motivational – and philosophical – differences. But the standout of the bunch is Siauvand in her debut role as the young precocious Maya. Watching Bill and Maya teach one another the languages and culture of their native countries is absolutely precious and provides a much-need warmth and lightheartedness to counter the mounting intensity.

Stillwater unspools like a multi-genred smorgasbord. It is a fascinating blend of drama, mystery, crime procedural, romance, and fish-out-of-water adventure, as Bill’s relationship with Virginie and Maya – and his own daughter – strengthens. A genre-swapping, multinational story like this is an extremely difficult thing to pull off with so many moving parts and such emotional weight at stake, but McCarthy has shown a propensity for so skillfully weaving his way through such complex plots – see Spotlight. He does it again here with Stillwater, a well-acted, near-perfectly-executed deep dive into the complexities of human nature and all the ghosts that live therein.

5/5 stars

Film Details


MPAA Rating: R for language.
140 mins
: Tom McCarthy
Tom McCarthy; Marcus Hinchey; Thomas Bidegain
SMatt Damon; Camille Cottin; Abigail Breslin
: Drama | Mystery
Secrets run deep.
Memorable Movie Quote:
Theatrical Distributor:
Focus Features
Official Site:
Release Date:
July 30, 2021
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:

Synopsis: 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.




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