Hot on the tail of Pig comes another movie subverting the Hollywood action-thriller, this time digging not for truffles but oil, redemption and justice.
Loosely based on the Amanda Knox case, Stillwater follows Oklahoman oil driller Bill (Matt Damon) to Marseille to exonerate his imprisoned daughter (Abigail Breslin, whose French is more convincing than her pretending to smoke). Rather than Liam Neeson’s shoot first, ask questions later approach, Bill does a lot of questioning with zero French (even “thank you” is beyond him) and limited English. The crime drama inverts The Bourne Identity by pairing Damon with a European woman (Camille Cottin, who steals the show just as she does in Call My Agent!), without whom Bill would be linguistically useless.
Joining Ben Affleck in the schlubby phase of their careers, Damon gives a solid physical performance in his purposeful stride and obliviousness to his surroundings. Tom McCarthy (Spotlight) is refreshingly cynical about Americans and their perception overseas (“Did you vote for Trump?”), an interesting perspective that backfires as the full extent of their awfulness hones slowly into view. The characters are decidedly broad, the all-American man (baseball cap, eagle tattoo, regular praying) and glamorous French actress (which doesn’t really make sense) providing heavy-handed contrasts between their respective cultures.
The film is overlong and oddly structured, sandwiching a sentimental family drama in between the gritty crime plot. Despite an affectionate relationship between Bill and his girlfriend’s daughter (a fantastic Lilou Siauvaud), this mawkish midsection feels out of place and makes for an uncomfortable gearshift when it finally veers into the vigilantism so nicely avoided in the first act. What begins as an ingeniously located exploration of nationality, immigration and racism loses control by leaning too hard into its twists, and ends up like Bill trying to pronounce “merci”: messy.