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Review: 'Stillwater'

Updated: Jul 31, 2021

Stillwater is the latest film from award-winning writer/director Tom McCarthy.

It’s crime drama/thriller starring Matt Damon in a performance that is garnering attention and praise at every turn.

The film reportedly received a five minute standing ovation when it debuted at the recent Cannes Film Festival.

The trailer was riveting. I couldn’t wait to see the movie.

In terms of the performances, Stillwater lived up to all the hype. Matt Damon’s Bill, a blue collar dad on a mission to save his daughter from a French prison for a crime he believes she did not commit, is one of his best performances.

It’s deserving of an Oscar nomination. Let me go on record for predicting that. It’s low key and powerful in its simplicity and honesty.

The same can be said for Camille Cottin and Abigail Breslin for their strong supporting roles.

Cottin plays the French single mom with whom Bill becomes involved.

Breslin plays his daughter, serving nine years for allegedly murdering her roommate in a backstory that loosely resembles the details of the real life case of Amanda Knox.

While the movie trailer conveyed a sense of explosive drama the movie plays more like a slow-burner foreign flick more focused on characters and relationships than the steamy details of a murder committed out of romantic/sexual jealousy or the frustrating details of a complex murder trial happening in a foreign country, a murder trial heavily influenced by salacious elements of the case exploited by the media.

The old expression “still waters run deep” probably applies here. Stillwater drowns in details and complexity. The surface barely reflects what lies below.

It’s the story of Bill’s ongoing attempt to somehow convince a judge to reopen and review his daughter’s case, something he is told is an impossibility.

Being a loving, devoted father, he vows to make it happen despite the odds—odds made worse by his presence in another country and another culture where he can’t even speak the language.

He eventually enlists the aid of a local single mom, Virginie, with a precious young daughter, Maya.

The woman is young and attractive and willing to help. A romantic bond forms that includes a father-daughter bond with Maya.

The style of the movie works. It’s slow and deliberate. But it works.

The performances here are what is often missed in most mainstream movies like this. There is nuance and subtlety.

There is depth. There is a sense of untampered realism in the staging and pacing of the scenes.

But all this is at the expense of the overall story which hints at a heightened dramatic arc that never materializes.

Granted there are some moments of real suspense, but the overall story steers away from a conclusion we might be expecting or hoping for.

It could be argued that the ending is more sobering and real than might be expected. And that is in keeping with Stillwater’s overall tone and style.

It defies expectations and chooses an approach that is more true to life than many similar movies present.

The intensity and resonance of the performances are at the heart of Stillwater. And that is worth seeing.

Stillwater may not be nominated for Best Picture, but it will most probably be nominated for the three lead performances.

It might not be the movie you were expecting to see, but it might be one that you were glad to see just for the stellar performances.


Stillwater is in theaters now.

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