Stars: Matt Damon, Abigail Breslin, Camille Cottin, Lilou Siauvaud, Deanna Dunagan and Idir Azougli
Director: Tom McCarthy
Scriptwriters: Tom McCarthy, Marcus Hinchey, Thomas Bidegain and Noe Debre
Composer: Mychael Danna
Cinematography: Masanobu Takayanagi
Rating: PG 13
Running Length: 140 Minutes
The title of this film, “Stillwater,” can have several meanings. There is “still water” which can mean deep thinking, and then there are towns with the name of Stillwater, such as in Minnesota which has a Federal Penitentiary. However, in this film, “still water” is the name of a town in Oklahoma and also refers to the main character, Bill Baker, played by Matt Damon. Here is a working man, stoic, and bound to help his daughter, Allison (Abigail Breslin) who is in a French jail doing time for murder. Does this scenario begin to look familiar? Does the name Amanda Knox ring a bell? Move the setting from Italy to France and there is a setting for “Stillwater.”
As the story goes, Bill (Damon) goes to Marseille, France to see his daughter, Allison (Breslin) in prison. She has been convicted by a French court for murdering her room-mate, while in college there. Allison maintains her innocence. Also, on an occasional visit to France is Grandma (Deanna Dunagan). Allison’s lawyer Leparz (Ann Le Ny) and Allison converse in French, which Bill cannot speak. This hampers the visit. Eventually, things come to light when new information is found that someone other than Allison may be the killer. What to do? Bill needs a rapid course in speaking French, and makes a dramatic decision to stay in France and help Allison. He finds a hotel to stay at and meets Virginie (Camille Cottin) and her daughter, Maya (Lilou Siauvaud) who aid in translation and feel sorry for him. Following different leads, Bill manages to get himself beaten up, which frightens Virginie. At a soccer game, Bill recognizes the presumed killer, Akim from a previous photo. Now, what to do? Bill starts breaking laws, Virginie won’t help anymore, Allison is desperate for help and even her lawyer won’t help even though DNA is found that doesn’t match Allison’s. So far from home, and so much to do. There is a roughness about Bill Baker that covers a tenderness, and yet…moral fiber, Can that moral fiber stay true to the cause?
Matt Damon pays the character of Bill Baker rather low-key, at first. He is a fish out of water in France and must slowly learn how to navigate there. He plays Bill with few facial expressions, slow and steady, Midwest cautious, even prays before eating. But, this becomes heavy after a while. There could have been flexibility here and the audience sometimes doesn’t see it behind a baseball cap and beard. Abigail Breslin’s character is on the brink of spending her life in jail, and Abigail Breslin doesn’t quit hit that mark.. The two characters who steal their scenes are Camille Cottin as Virginie, who befriends Bill, and her daughter, Maya (Lilou Siauvaud). They blend as a mother/daughter duo.
As for the storyline, you know what is going to happen because of headlines just a few years ago. A format is here---crime committed in foreign country, the accused, trial, prison, family visits and possible new evidence. You could count on your fingers to six, as each situation comes into play. Masanobu Takayanagi’s cinematography is fine and so is the music by Mychael Danna. I will go back to the title of the film, “Stillwater,” sometimes, the mood of the film is still.
Copyright 2021 Marie Asner