Matt Damon fights for his daughter in this gripping thriller.
In 2015, writer/director Tom McCarthy opened me eyes to the abuse the Catholic Priest bestowed on the boys in “Spotlight,” which is why it was on my list of the Best Films of 2015 and of the Decade. His latest entry “Stillwater” is almost as throughly entertaining as that masterpiece, and allows its leading man Matt Damon to excel as a determined father trying to prove her daughter’s innocence.
This determined father is an oil worker named Bill Baker (Damon), who travels from Stillwater, Oklahoma to Marseille, France to visit his daughter Allison (Abigail Breslin), who is wrongfully convicted of murdering her roommate. It’s based on a true story about how Amanda Knox was also wrongfully convicted of murder, but in Italy back in 2007.
I found out that the real Knox denounced this movie saying: “by fictionalizing away my innocence, my total lack of involvement, by erasing the role of the authorities in my wrongful conviction, McCarthy reinforces an image of me as a guilty and untrustworthy person.” I can’t say what is real or not, but I was mostly fascinated by how McCarthy, and his fellow writers Marcus Hinchey, Thomas Bidegain, and Noe Debre use patience to see the outcome of how the main protagonist can help his daughter, who eventually learns about the importance of finding peace within herself, whether he’s innocent or guilty. But we believe she’s innocent.
Bill’s only companion in France is a stage actress and single mother named Virginie (Camille Cotton), who helps him with some translations on his mission to prove his daughter’s innocence. He’s looking for Akim (Idir Azougli), the man who may be the real suspect, and he needs his DNA to match the real killer’s blood.
Allison has lately gone estranged from her father, because of how he screwed up in the past, and is even more infuriated when he was the one handling her case, instead of the one who said she couldn’t reopen it, and let the suspect get away after surviving a gang beating. You know how cases are, how governments are, and how complicated everything is. Boy, I wish the world wasn’t so complex.
Despite this estrangement, four months later, he remains in France to live with Virginie and her little girl Maya (Lilou Siauvaud), and do some construction work. And when he reunites with his daughter and finds the suspect, the tension thickens.
Damon is already in his 50s, and he’s starting to get more distinguished roles for his age. He’s able to use a Southern accent, goatee, and strong emotions to convince us he is an Oklahoma dad, who doesn’t speak French, but eventually learns, which is quite essential if he wants to save his daughter. Breslin also has her moments of sincerity and sometimes anger, while Cotton and Siauvaud are both able to help keep Damon in check.
Despite Knox’s issues, and I respect her words, I was still enthralled by how McCarthy uses his own directions and eases us into a thriller that doesn’t settle for easy formulas or commercial gain. It’s released by Focus Features, so I doubt it will take out Disney’s “Jungle Cruise” at the box office, since it’s a bigger movie, but that doesn’t mean “Stillwater” isn’t entertaining. It keeps you involved and guessing from start to finish.