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With: Matt Damon, Camille Cottin, Abigail Breslin, Lilou Siauvaud, Deanna Dunagan, Idir Azougli, Anne Le Ny
Written by: Tom McCarthy, Marcus Hinchey, Thomas Bidegain, Noé Debré
Directed by: Tom McCarthy
MPAA Rating: R for language
Running Time: 140
Date: 07/30/2021

Stillwater (2021)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Jail Blurred

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Like director Tom McCarthy's best movies, this slow-burn neo-noir unfolds as as a detailed, nuanced character study, with no detail too small, and the plot twists layered expertly into the tapestry.

Bill Baker (Matt Damon) is an oil worker in Stillwater, Oklahoma. He prepares for a trip, the latest of many, to Marseille, to visit his daughter Allison (Abigail Breslin). Allison has been in prison for five years for the murder of her roommate, but now she has an idea who the real killer could have been. She asks her father to deliver a letter to her lawyer, but the lawyer immediately shuts down the idea.

In his hotel, he befriends a local, Virginie (Camille Cottin) and her 9 year-old daughter Maya (Lilou Siauvaud). Unable to afford a private investigator, Bill decides to stay and hunt for the killer himself, with Virginie's help. He begins to stay at her place, and to become a father figure for Maya. Time passes, and then... the killer shows his face.

A plot synopsis or a trailer can't do justice to the impressive way Stillwater plays out, with McCarthy (The Station Agent, Spotlight, etc.) making full use of the 140-minute running time to dig deep into human emotions and hard choices. One of the key scenes, Bill spotting the killer at a crowded soccer match, comes at a moment after the movie has lulled us into a sense of comfort; the discovery comes as a jaw-dropping shock, rather than a routine twist.

In the midst of the storytelling, Stillwater deals with outsiders and foreign places, and the way that they're viewed through lenses of hate, suspicion, or mistrust. Bill is a bullheaded, pushy American, sunglasses parked over his grim face or perched on top of his dirty baseball cap. (Damon gives an impeccable, immersive performance.) He shoves his way into situations, demanding to know if anyone speaks English, unafraid — or unaware — of being rude.

His slow transformation into someone who cares about others feels genuine, even though it can't fix his ultimate character flaw, which is the reason the movie is really a noir. In the end, it brutally, brilliantly turns its lens back upon the Americans.

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