Stillwater: Film Review

Stillwater

Courtesy of eOne

Tom McCarthy‘s latest movie Stillwater had its premiere out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival in July and we haven’t had to wait long for it to be released in cinemas.

Matt Damon stars as Bill Baker, an oil rig worker from Stillwater, Oklahoma who frequently flies out to Marseille in France to visit his daughter Allison (Abigail Breslin), who has been in prison there for five years. She was found guilty of murdering her girlfriend Lina and continues to protest her innocence, and Bill tries to do some detective work to clear her name during his latest visit, which turns out to be much longer and more complicated than he planned.

I thought this was going to be a very slow and serious drama but there are a lot of light moments to this and I laughed out loud a few times, which isn’t something I was expecting to do with this film. The script is very well written and I liked that there were plenty of everyday comedic moments, ones that are normal within a family setting.

The drama revolving around Allison and the crime (inspired by the Amanda Knox/Meredith Kercher case) is the hook that will pull everyone in and keep them intrigued until the end. It’s interesting and thrilling, that’s for sure, but I actually preferred the other side of the story – seeing roughneck former drug addict Bill forging a new life for himself in France. He enlists an acquaintance – Virginie (Camille Cottin) – to serve as his translator at the start of his visit and they become close friends, with him taking her daughter Maya (Lilou Siauvaud) under his wing. It was so lovely to watch him learning French, forging something like a family unit with them, getting a job and putting down roots.

However, the film fails to stick the landing and I was disappointed by how the last 15 minutes played out. It felt like it was building to a very exciting, game-changing climax but then McCarthy took the unexpected route and went for a more subtle and understated approach. He decided to not show certain key moments actually happening – they were either inferred or you found out afterwards – and that was a shame.

Damon clearly put in a lot of work for this role, particularly when it came to nailing the Oklahoma accent and bulking up to convincingly look like a labourer. He effectively transforms into this rough, mumbling, serious – and presumably Republican – guy from Middle America. Breslin isn’t in it as much as you’d expect and I would have liked her to have more opportunities to shine.

Even though they’re the big names on the poster, my favourites were the French stars. Cottin has such a lovely, warm presence and Siauvaud is a little star. She steals all the scenes she’s in with her cheeky, straight-talking, honest nature. She has to deal with some big emotional scenes and does a fantastic job. She also made me laugh the most and was just a joy to watch.

Despite my misgivings about the ending, I really liked Stillwater and recommend checking it out.

In cinemas from Friday 6th August

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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