No matter what happens, a father will always be there for his daughter. It doesn’t matter if they are estranged, share different viewpoints or no longer talk as they used to; a father will stand by his daughter. Stillwater tells the story of a father who travels from his hometown of Stillwater, Oklahoma to the unfamiliar sprawl of Marseille, France in order to provide comfort and to prove that his daughter is innocent of a crime that she was convicted of. It’s an interesting story that’s matched by solid performances from its cast even if the movie feels somewhat too much for its own good.
Bill Baker (Matt Damon) is an out-of-work oil worker who spends most of his time in a foreign country visiting his daughter in a French prison. His daughter named Allison (Abigail Breslin) is serving a nine year prison sentence for the murder of her roommate and subsequent lover who became unfaithful. Her name was Lina. It was a big case, especially for the residents of Marseille. She’s already served four years in total, but during one meeting between father and daughter, Allison gives her father a note urging him to deliver it to her defense lawyer. Although, Bill can’t read nor speak French, he does as she requests.
Allison had relocated to France shortly after graduating from High School. She wanted a clean break from the mundane life that she lived back in Oklahoma and sought something different. Marseille was quite the change. She learned the language, fell in love with her roommate and was happy. Once Lina was murdered, everything changed. Her father, who was mostly absent in her life due to his work, has now arrived in France to be by her side. They don’t exactly share a loving relationship; it’s more cordial than anything.
Bill navigates the city as best he can and after reaching out to the defense attorney, it’s revealed that the note asserting evidence wouldn’t be approved in a court of law. While staying at a local hotel, Bill befriends a French woman named Virginie (Camille Cottin). She’s staying next door to his room while she is getting her apartment ready. Bill helps Virginie’s daughter one night after she is locked out of her hotel room. From there Bill and Virginie strike up a friendship. She assists Bill in learning the language and even meets with witnesses who testified at his daughter’s trail years earlier.
The movie itself is broken up into two parts. One part is a somewhat crime drama involving proven whether or not Allison did murder her roommate while the other is Bill coming to terms with living in a foreign country; something that is entirely different from life back in the United States. The story is interesting and we see to what lengths Bill will go to in order to help out his daughter, even if that means engaging in activity that would be considered illegal. But for most audiences the extended runtime may prove to be too much for this particular narrative. This movie may remind viewers of another film that is somewhat similar but is far superior, and that is Prisoners.
While Stillwater isn’t a brash or engaging as Prisoners, I will commend the performances of the cast in the movie. The script isn’t nearly as focused as it ought to be but Matt Damon does a great job of playing a father who is desperate to prove his daughter’s innocence even though it does appear that Allison is holding back crucial information. It’s a decent crime drama but one that you’ll forget about as soon as you view it.
Score 3 out of 5
Stillwater is better acted than it is written, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work on its own merits. While the investigation scenarios do fall flat as the movie progresses, the more engaging part of the narrative is between Bill and Virginie. Even though this movie is loosely based off of the Amanda Knox story (something that she has detested publicly), the crime itself isn’t the focal point of the film. I appreciate seeing how one’s man journey into another country has shaped him but, in the end, Stillwater is just a decent film despite being co-written and directed by Tom McCarthy (who directed the Oscar Winning Spotlight). Just don’t expect a nail-biting murder mystery thriller because that isn’t what Stillwater is.