What we wouldn’t be willing to do to protect our family is the topic of this brilliant 2021 drama, Stillwater, an underrated movie starring the solid and mature Matt Damon in the lead.
The aging Jason Bourne casts off the role of the indestructible spy to enter the weary, broken-down life of Bill Baker, a construction worker with less and less work and more and more debt to pay.
To make matters worse, the man has a daughter named Allison, locked up in prison in Marseilles for five years, convicted of the murder of her roommate with whom she was having a lesbian affair.
The girl had changed her life long before, exasperated by a father who was always away working on oil rigs and who, when he was home, spent most of his time on alcohol and drugs.
Thus, their relationship is virtually nonexistent, and they have not spoken in years; however, Bill’s mother, Sharon, convinces him to fly overseas to finally visit her daughter.
When they meet in prison, Allison’s belief convinces him that she is innocent, so he tries to talk to her former lawyer to reopen the case and find the real culprit.
The lawyer wants no part of it, fearing repercussions because the case has made such a media sensation, so Bill begins to investigate on his own to clear his daughter’s name.
Not knowing a word of French; however, he asks for help from the sweet neighbor in his hotel room, Virginie, as he begins to track down all the witnesses from the old trial.
At the same time, an increasingly intimate relationship arises between Virginie and Bill, just as he starts lovingly caring for her daughter, Maya, perhaps trying to make up for having been a lousy father to Allison.
America and France, so distant and so close
I want to say it right away: if you are looking for a tense action crime of stupid violence movie like Taken and similar, then Stillwater is not for you, as it probably will be for most audiences in theaters during 2021.
Indeed, director Tom McCarthy aims to tell us about something else entirely with this story, putting on the table topics of remorse and the search for redemption for a father-daughter relationship that never worked out in the ordinary world, actually beginning only behind bars.
This caused many not to find what they expected from this movie, which failed to even recoup its low production costs of $20 million.
However, we know success and quality only sometimes go together because McCarthy succeeds in sculpting an excellent drama made of people instead of action.
In this story, personal relationships constantly evolve and mutate, going from anger to sadness or love to disappointment in a few minutes.
Yet the director, who also wrote the screenplay with colleagues Marcus Hinchey and Thomas Bidegain, does not make the mistake of falling into over-drama with screaming or tear-jerking scenes.
On the contrary, the staging and art direction are constantly striving for a realistic portrayal of the environments and characters, thanks partly to cinematography that takes advantage of the evocative Marseille landscapes in contrast to the suburban post-decay desolation of Stillwater.
So, in this case, this is not a culture clash between America and France, but rather a successful blend taking the best from both and embodied in the trust and love relationship between the foreigner and the single mother with her child.
New relationships arise from the interrupted life between Bill and Allison, who can only begin to be father and daughter again when he must sacrifice his new French family.
The hard struggle to forgive
We are not discovering today Matt Damon, a longtime and big-name actor whom I have mentioned repeatedly in numerous movies on this site, such as in the cast of the extraordinarily irreverent comedy Dogma or the outstanding space survival The Martian, where he was the absolute star.
Again, his character, the closeted and honest worker Bill Baker, is perpetually front and center in any situation.
It is a hard job that Damon carries on his shoulders, loading on his talent the responsibility of leading the rest of the cast through this man who we understand has had a problematic past, full of bad choices and actions.
Time does not forgive, that is true, but can people?
That will be precisely the question that must be asked of his daughter Allison, excellently played by Abigail Breslin, thankfully so far from the bland, stereotypical homosexual characters that part of the cinematic entertainment establishment strives to sell without success.
Indeed, the best part of this strange 2021 movie is when she has a day of freedom from prison, wandering the beautiful beaches of Marseilles, so different from faraway Stillwater.
But staying with her new companion, all she has to say about her father is, “Make no mistake, he’s an asshole. I know that for a fact because I am one, too.“
In short, children’s footsteps often never get very far from their parents; no matter how hard we strive to be different and better, unfortunately, we end up too many times falling into the same mistakes that we so despised.
Finally, the French couple living with Damon in his new French life, the outgoing theater actress Virginie (a wonderful Camille Cottin), along with the curious and funny little Maya, played more than convincingly by Lilou Siavaud, is perfect.