Stillwater opens in theaters this Friday, July 30. Bill (Matt Damon) is an oil-rig roughneck from Oklahoma. He makes the trek to Marseille to visit his daughter (Abigail Breslin), who is in prison in France for a crime she claims she didn’t commit. Bill faces language barriers, differences in culture, and a legal system that feels against his family while making it his mission to free his daughter.
Don’t be fooled by the trailer or some of the marketing for this movie. It isn’t an action movie, it’s a dramatic-crime-thriller, and it’s all the better for it. The unconventional nature of how this is set up is part of the appeal, refusing to follow an ABCDE structure and opting for a winding storyline that results in real answers. I know it’s set in France, but for the sake of comparison I’ll liken it to a Russian doll with audiences going in expecting one thing before being surprised with unexpected turns of events that deliver something else entirely.
While not perfect — it has its flaws — there aren’t any moments that are especially slow or lacking impact. Each subtlety has its own particular meaning in the long run, an aspect of films that I greatly appreciate and enjoy. It may feel stuffed with what feel like meandering plot twists, but that’s what keeps it engaging right up until the end credits roll.
Giving one of his career best performances is Matt Damon. He truly embodies this role and takes on this character in a very impactful manner. The character of Bill can feel over the top at times, but Damon’s performance never strikes that chord, peeling back at the character’s layers over the course of the film. Matt Damon is on a mission in Marseille. My only real issue with his character is that there might have been a few too many “I don’t speak French” scenes.
Abigail Breslin is impressive in her role as Bill’s daughter, though her character makes it a little bit difficult for us to want to root for her. I had to remind myself that’s a struggle with a character, though, because Breslin’s performance is so spot-on in her delivery of the emotion.
The timeliness of this story wasn’t lost on me either. Tackling themes of racism and nationalism, it’s the kind of story that its specific time period feels irrelevant when it’s still so relevant today. One theme that is touched on the trailer (“You sound very American right now.”) but one I didn’t really expect to be so dominant is that of how Americans are perceived across the world. Tackling the image that the US and its people portray outwardly and diving headfirst into the reputation of American ideology felt so timely and eye-opening.
Camille Cottin plays Virginie, and her portrayal, specifically, taps into this theme of cross-cultural examination more than any other. You sympathize with her and grow to feel an unexpected connection to her that at least I didn’t expect going in to this.
Stillwater could only have come from a non-American writer, and screenwriter Noé Debré scripted it spectacularly. It makes perfect sense why this premiered with a screening at Cannes because the French lens is omnipresent and ever so crucial to the overall narrative of the film.
Audiences will have a real connection with these characters throughout the movie thanks to the humanizing elements of love and honesty (and lies) that are portrayed in a moving way.
Stillwater hits theaters this Friday, July 3o.