STILLWATER – A Review by Gadi Elkon

Don’t let the “action” trailer fool you, STILLWATER is one of the year’s best films.  Director Tom McCarthy teams with Matt Damon to create a thoughtful thriller that surprises with its intention and honesty.  Here is my full review of Focus Features’ STILLWATER.

Stillwater follows an American oil-rig roughneck from Oklahoma who travels to Marseille to visit his estranged daughter, in prison for a murder she claims she did not commit. Confronted with language barriers, cultural differences, and a complicated legal system, Bill builds a new life for himself in France as he makes it his personal mission to exonerate his daughter.

Writer/Director Tom McCarthy has an incredible talent in putting honesty on screen.  SPOTLIGHT illuminated just how bright Tom’s ability to uncover the heartbreaking reality but still be grounded by the underlying humanity left to deal with the tragedy.  STILLWATER though is more closely related to McCarthy’s earlier work THE VISITOR.  Both films take a specific view of one main’s journey along uncharted and unwanted difficulties to impact the people he loves. The deliberate pacing amplifies the suspense which gives the feel of a thriller, but time and time again the characters have touching and even loving moments of reflection.  The way in which the movie deviates to tell a story of a lost man finding himself through a connection with a young child is utterly captivating.  Matt Damon’s character Bill is most alive when he interacts with young Maya, played by newcomer Lilou Siauvaud.  The first-time actress is the true star of the film and Maya’s storyline in the overall STILLWATER plot is it’s most uplifting and enticing.

The acting as a whole is always a lovely treat in McCarthy’s films.  His films always do a great job of showing friendships, budding romances and unique connections as worthy moments of insight and appeal.  As STILLWATER unfolds we are treated to seeing Bill, our everyman American stand-in, connect with the women in his life.  Even before the film travels overseas Bill’s banter with Sharon sets the stage for the interactions he has with each important female presence.  This peaks in his moments spent with his jailed daughter Allison.  Abigail Breslin (Allison), Camille Cottin (Virginie), Deanna Dunagan (Sharon), Anne Le Ny (Leparq) and the exuberant Lilou Siauvaud (Maya) all have tremendously engaging moments working with Matt Damon.  As Bill grows in knowledge and learns to really care about people in his life the more STILLWATER connects.

The fish-out-of-water appeal of an American abroad really is nicely dealt with in the film.  McCarthy and the film’s team do a wonderful job of showcasing the exotic beauty of Marseille’s Mediterranean seaside while still touching on the diverse urban population.  As McCarthy alludes upon religious and foreign subjects in The Visitor so to are those elements apart of STILLWATER’s plot.  The movie does a terrific job of hinting and inferring the reality that Muslims are treated vastly different in Marseille.  The socio-economic climate as well as the massive growth of the population is a keen to so many immigrant struggles felt around the world, but set in the turbulent waters of Marseille is fascinating.  Some of the most important moments in the film are the way in which Camille Cottin’s Virginie reacts to her fellow countrymen and women.  The film really does an amazing job, as did The Visitor, in imparting life lessons through seeing indifference and hatred.

The film received a 5-minute standing ovation at this year’s CANNES film festival.  The film-loving audience obviously felt McCarthy’s honest take on religious, socio-economic and race based issues impacting France and the world as a whole.  Damon’s Bill is not only just a stand-in for an everyman Okie but rather any person needing to be woken up to the diversity of our world.  STILLWATER isn’t your typical thriller and thankfully so.   Don’t be fooled by the action based marketing but instead be mesmerized by the film’s heart and soul.  Easily one of the year’s best films.

STILLWATER

4.5 Stars

Directed by: Tom McCarthy

Written by: Tom McCarthy, Marcus Hinchey, Thomas Bidegain, and Noe Debre

Rated: R

Running Time: 2hr 20min

Crime / Drama / Thriller

Theatrical wide Release: In theaters on  July 30th

Starring: Matt Damon, Camille Cottin, Abigail Breslin and introducing Lilou Siauvaud

The Selig Rating Scale:

5 Stars – Excellent movie, well worth the price.

4 Stars – Good movie

3 Stars – OK movie

2 Stars – No need to rush. Save it for a rainy day.

1 Star – Good that I saw it on the big screen but wish I hadn’t paid for it.

 

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