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Film Review – Stillwater Features Matt Damon in a Transformative Performance as a Father Fighting to Free His Daughter

Matt Damon has made a name for himself as one of Hollywood’s leading A-list actors for his portrayal of globe-trotting characters that bend the law to fit their purposes, most notably the title protagonist in the Jason Bourne series, as well as Linus Caldwell in the Ocean‘s trilogy. The Academy Award-winning filmmaker’s latest character who travels abroad and doesn’t follow government rules, in an effort to protect the life he holds dear, is the complex anti-hero of Bill Baker in the upcoming crime drama, Stillwater.

The politically-driven thriller, which powerfully utilizes class and cultural divisions within both American and European societies to drive the character development and overall plot, was stunningly directed and produced by Oscar-winning filmmaker, Tom McCarthy. The helmer-producer also co-scribed the movie’s script with one of France’s top screenwriters, Thomas Bidegain, and his writing partner, Noé Debré, as well as Marcus Hinchey.

Infusing the screenplay with both American and European perspectives grippingly showcases the legal and societal struggles that Bill, a Republican oil-rig roughneck from Oklahoma, faces after he arrives in France to help free his daughter, who’s imprisoned there for a murder she didn’t commit. Damon effortlessly gave an emotionally humbling performance as the protagonist, who determinedly tries to defy the odds in order to prove his daughter’s innocence in the foreign country.

Abigail Breslin (left) stars as “Allison” and Matt Damon (right) stars as “Bill” in director Tom McCarthy’s STILLWATER, a Focus Features release.
Credit Jessica Forde / Focus Features

Stillwater, which is in part inspired by the Amanda Knox case, follows Bill as he fights to save his daughter, Allison (Abigail Breslin). She’s currently serving her fifth year of a nine-year sentence for the murder of her French Arab girlfriend, Lina, who she met while attending college in Marseille. He flies to the French city as often as he can, in order to support and pray for his daughter, even though their relationship is strained. Allison is still upset with her father for not always being there for her when she was a child, before he went to rehab to treat his alcohol and drug use.

When he arrives in Marseille, Bill discovers that Allison has learned new information about the case, which implicates a young man named Akim (Idir Azougli) as the person who actually killed Lina. But when Allison’s lawyer, Leparq (Anne Le Ny), declines to reopen the case after receiving the information, Bill makes it his mission to find Akim himself, so that he can prove himself to his daughter.

Since Bill doesn’t speak French or understand how the different social strata of Marseille work, he seeks help from his neighbor at the hotel he’s staying at in France, theater actress and single mother, Virginie (Camille Cottin), and her eight-year-old daughter, Maya (Lilou Siauvaud). As the trio subsequently form a close-knit family dynamic that Bill never had with Allison, Bill relies on the mother and her young daughter to not only help free his own daughter, but also better understand and connect with her along the way.

The main standout element of the film is how Damon superbly transforms into Bill, both mentally and physically. While the drama’s anti-hero isn’t as sleek and skilled in defending himself as Jason Bourne, or as comedic or technologically skilled as Linus in the Ocean‘s franchise, the actor infuses Bill with a genuine relatability as he strives to free his daughter.

Matt Damon (left) stars as “Bill” and Camille Cottin (right) stars as “Virginie” in director Tom McCarthy’s STILLWATER, a Focus Features release.
Credit Jessica Forde / Focus Features

The actor naturally emphasizes Stillwater‘s protagonist’s desire to prove Allison’s innocence after Leparq tells him that there’s nothing more she can do to help her client. Despite the Marseille community immediately shunning the American foreign exchange college student during her trial, as well as her growing disdain for his choices, Damon captivatingly highlights his character’s drive to support his daughter.

In addition to his new dedication to overcoming their troubled relationship and emotionally supporting Allison during her continued quest to prove her innocence in court, Bill’s remorse and guilt over his past parenting skills are also perfectly highlighted in Damon’s physicality. With the anti-hero being an oil worker, who’s used to engaging in manual labor throughout his career, the actor carries his body as though his character is determined to complete his physical work. However, he’s not viscerally prepared to fight back and defend himself against the dangers he finds himself in as he sets out to help his daughter.

Stillwater is a timely, provocative crime thriller that explores how the social injustices found within the world’s political and government systems truly change people’s mindsets. Damon captivatingly highlighted his character’s drive to support his daughter as he brought the flawed, but equally relatable, Bill to life throughout the movie. While the protagonist’s exact circumstances are highly unique and don’t happen to most Americans, his overall struggles to not only prove his daughter’s innocence to the world, but also his redemption as a father to her, make the drama a standout feature.

Grade: A-

Here’s the trailer of the film.

Focus Features will release Stillwater in theaters on July 30, 2021.

Karen Benardello
Karen Benardellohttps://cinemadailyus.com
As a life-long fan of films and television shows, and an endless passion for writing, Karen Benardello decided to combine the two for a career. She graduated from New York's LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic in 2008. Karen has since been working in the press in New York City, including interviewing film and television casts and crews, writing movie and television news articles and reviewing films and televisions series. Some of her highlights include attending such local events as the Tribeca Film Festival, the New York Film Festival and New York Comic-Con, as well as traveling across North America to attend such festivals as the Sundance Film Festival, SXSW and the Toronto International Film Festival. She has been a member of the Women Film Critics Circle since 2012, and the New York Film Critics Online since 2019.


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