A dramatic thriller directed by Academy Award® winner Tom McCarthy and starring Matt Damon, 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.
What We Thought:
Stillwater is a tough film to review because the biggest issues I have with it would spoil the entire movie. I’ll go over the positives then try to tip toe around what I don’t like. I won’t spoil the ending, I promise.
First off is Matt Damon, he’s very good in the role. He plays an oil rig guy from Oklahoma whose daughter is in prison in France. He flies to and from France to visit her and to try to get her released. Matt very much looks and sounds the part. His southern accent is pretty solid and his build looks like a Southern construction type. His arms look huge in this film, but his body isn’t 100% Jason Bourne. Nor should it be, he’s an aged worker with a past that includes addiction. Add in the stress of his daughter’s predicament and he shouldn’t have six pack abs. With the hat, facial hair, flannels, jeans and jacked arms, he looks exactly like what you expect.
French actress Camille Cottin is also very good. She plays a French mom who Matt Damon’s character befriends on a trip to Marseille. She helps him with translations and when he takes up work and moves there, she lets him move in with her and her daughter. The young actress who plays her daughter is also very good completely holding her own in scenes with Damon and Cottin.
One of the biggest issues I have with the film is the tonal shifts. It starts out with Damon flying to Marseille, visiting his daughter (played by Abigail Breslin), dealing with her lawyer and trying everything he can to get her case worked on. He looks into private investigators and also tries to find a lead suspect. But then he moves there permanently, it gets into a will they/won’t they love story and Matt hanging out with Cottin’s daughter, taking her to school and soccer games while she teaches him French and he teaches her English. For about 20 minutes or longer, it completely ignores the daughter in jail storyline. Then in jumps back into it when Matt sees the suspect and it then becomes about him doing anything necessary to free his daughter. It feels like drastically different movies at time.
Then there is the big complaint. They want us to root for Matt to free his daughter. He’s spending all this time and money trying to get her out and prove her innocence. He upends his life and moves to France to be there for her. Unfortunately her character is terrible. Because of his past she thinks he’s a screw-up and calls him that. She blames him for her lawyer not doing more. Meanwhile he gets beat up at one point, leaves the United States for her, takes a job in a new country for her and she she doesn’t appreciate any of it.
Plus there’s the ending. I won’t say what happens, but once all of it comes out, none of the emotions you were supposed to feel seem validated. Just the opposite. I was kind of aggravated at the ending which made my issues with the film seem even bigger.
I don’t know who Stillwater is for. At times it almost feels anti-American with Matt’s character being called out for sounding American or doing things in American ways. His character is asked if he owns guns and voted for Trump. But at the same time his Oklahoma character is the lead who you root for. You want this guy, flaws and all, to help his daughter. You’re rooting for the American to succeed. It’s all very confusing considering the talent involved. Matt Damon is an Oscar winner. Its director Tom McCarthy is an Oscar winner. I just don’t understand how I walked out confused at watching this movie and not uplifted and happy.
Director: Tom McCarthy
Writers: Tom McCarthy, Marcus Hinchey, Thomas Bidegain, Noe Debre
Producers: Steve Golin, Tom McCarthy, Jonathan King, Liza Chasin
Cast: Matt Damon, Abigail Breslin, Camille Cottin
Opening Date: July 30, 2021
Running Time: 140 minutes
MPAA Rating: R