“Stillwater” (Rated C)
Cast: Matt Damon, Abigail Breslin, Camille Cottin, Lilou Siauvaud
Where to watch: In theaters
You like dramas?
Well, you’ve got to watch “Stillwater”!
Like thrillers? Watch “Stillwater”.
Like mysteries? Try “Stillwater”.
What about romance? “Stillwater”.
Family conflict stories? “Stillwater”! “Stillwater!”
And almost everybody enjoys a “fish out of water” tale, right? Well, “Stillwater” is definitely for you.
Rarely does one single movie bracket so many disparate movie genres, and manage to do so on such a resoundingly compelling level.
Plus, there’s Matt Damon!
So, if you’re a big fan of the always fantastic Matt Damon, you’ve got to see “Stillwater”. And only a moderate fan of Matt Damon? “Stillwater” may make you a believer.
Damon plays Bill Baker, an American oil-rig roughneck who travels to Marseille, France, to visit his estranged daughter (Abigail Breslin). She’s in prison for a murder she claims she didn’t commit. Confronted with language barriers, cultural differences and a complicated legal system, Bill soon builds a new life for himself as he makes it his personal mission to exonerate her.
The film is very loosely and very controversially based on the story of 20-year-old American foreign exchange student Amanda Knox, who was convicted of murdering her roommate in Italy in 2007. The matter attracted worldwide attention, straight up until the time Knox was acquitted in 2015, after serving a number of years in an Italian prison. To this day, Knox continues to live under the public eye.
Knox is said to be extremely displeased with “Stillwater”, especially as it veers in a very different direction from what she maintains is the truth in her story.
In any event, co-writer (along with Marcus Hinchey, Thomas Bidegain and Noé Debré) and director Tom McCarthy – who was one of the writers of the amazing animated “Up”, wrote and directed the wonderful “The Station Agent”, and co-wrote and directed 2015’s “Spotlight” (which went on to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards) – accurately and efficiently steers something that could easily have become chunky, overstuffed and lost in its frequent tonal shifts.
We also get to see a refreshing (and sometimes disturbing) and decidedly unglamorous side of France we almost never get to see in movies.
However, the strength of the performances is what makes “Stillwater” a standout.
Damon is simply spectacular. We see his Bill Baker grow, evolve and almost transform, but not too far from within the realm of believability for his small-town character.
Former child star Breslin, Oscar-nominated for “Little Miss Sunshine”, has long proved herself to be one of the best young actors around today. And her role here will further confirm that.
French actress Camille Cottin and scene stealer nine-year-old Lilou Siauvaud are also excellent.
Siauvaud and Damon share quite a lot of scene time, and make a charming and unforgettable duo.
Again, there’s a lot going on here, as the picture hops back and forth between quiet introspection, culture shock, legal and family turmoil, and even action and adventure.
Shockingly, it all seems to work, made all the more believable by the authenticity of Damon and the cast. And with quite a few surprises, it’ll even have you on the edge of your seat at times.
Smarter than the movies we normally get at this time of the year, and with some of the zest you’d expect in a midsummer flick, “Stillwater” has almost everything one could want in a movie. No question about it!
• Dwight Strachan is the host/producer of “Morning Blend” on Guardian Radio and station manager. He is a television producer and writer, and an avid TV history and film buff. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on twitter @morningblend969.