The latest from Oscar-winning director Tom McCarthy, Stillwater is not the film that it’s been marketed to be. It’s not a thriller and has little to no relation to Taken as many assumed, despite the father hunting for daughter dynamic. Matt Damon’s lead character does a few risky and questionable moves to try and exonerate his daughter in a foreign state, but he is nothing like Liam Neeson’s trigger-happy, revenge-seeking badass. Stillwater is a drama with a few thrilling moments that have been capitalized to market the film, contrary to what it’s truly about.
The story follows Bill Baker (Damon), the father of an American girl who is wrongfully imprisoned in the south of France. When he takes the trip to Marseille, he soon realizes that he could do more for her case. But thing’s aren’t so easy for Bill as he runs into cultural and language barriers. This is where Virginie (Camille Cottin) comes in, starting off as Bill’s local translator and progressing to having a bigger role in his day-to-day life as he settles down in Marseille.
Stillwater is a very intimate film that has the power to profoundly affect the spectator. Bill isn’t your typical run-of-mill middle American character. Damon’s acting lends a humane touch to what could’ve been a completely archetypal role, as some may believe from the promotional material. It’s the tender moments throughout Stillwater that linger in one’s memory. Especially, in relation to Bill’s dynamic with the French family he is, essentially, adopted by.
Camille Cottin is at her best, who, like her co-lead in Damon, brings levity to every scene that she’s in. Likewise, the young and talented Lilou Siauvaud, who plays Cottin’s daughter, Maya, is an absolute highlight. Maya’s sweet relationship with Bill is so good that the film’s ultimate twist has the power to break hearts. The best compliment that can be given to Tom McCarthy’s artistic vision is that it feels lived-in and realistic. It’s almost as if Bill had actually existed, it wouldn’t be a surprise if everything that was shown was based on real events.
The realism is not only an attribute of the film’s direction and performances, but its writing which happens to come from a slew of writers, which normally spells bad luck. The screenplay was written by Tom McCarthy, Marcus Hinchey, Thomas Bidegain, and Noé Debré. The only downside to this come from the few scenes with Abigail Breslin, who plays the pivotal character of the daughter in prison. The script doesn’t give her much room but to just overact when finding out about what her dad has been truly up to. Though this is just one downside to an otherwise extremely believable film.
Tom McCarthy’s Stillwater is a pondering success as it taps into real human emotions that permeate throughout the film’s entire two hour and twenty minute run time. At no point does this massive length drag, despite being longer than most films of its kind. The narrative is well crafted together and effective in its clear objectives. This is a film to seek out, even if one was expecting something more thriller-like. It’s a great character study.