Director Tom McCarthy, whose previous film “Spotlight” took home the Academy Award for Best Picture, returns with another riveting crime film, “Stillwater.”
Starring Matt Damon, the film follows a father from Stillwater, Oklahoma, who must travel to France in order to prove his daughter’s innocence for a murder she says she did not commit.
In a year where the only films brave enough to test the pandemic box office waters have been major studio films or ones with a streaming backup option, it was nice to finally see one of the first truly great films of 2021.
The film would not reach the heights that it does if it weren’t for Matt Damon. He is excellent in playing a southern religious man who works on oil rigs and in construction before finding himself in a country with cultural differences and a language he does not speak nor cares to learn.
He most certainly carries the film and is sure to garner an Oscar nomination. His French companion that helps guide him through this mystery by translating and helping him navigate this country is played wonderfully by Camille Cottin.
The film is wonderfully put together with excellent visual storytelling through McCarthy’s camera and commentary on French and American relations and attitudes.
There is not a dull moment as the mystery slowly unravels. Even when Damon’s character hits a dead-end, McCarthy takes the downtime to further develop his character as he forms an intimate relationship with Virginie, his interpreter, and her daughter, Maya.
His connection with Maya is one of the sweetest aspects of the film as it is a second chance for him to be a good father and role model as he explains he was not a good or present one to his daughter, played by Abigail Breslin, who is in jail.
During the downtime, the script even addresses that it is taking a break from the mystery, for better or worse.
The example scene comes when Maya is watching the French version of “Storage Wars,” and as they are about to open one of the units to see its contents, it cuts to a commercial where she audibly groans.
Damon’s character, Bill, says “See, that’s what they do. They go to commercial before the big reveal.” The line is a bit on the nose but not necessarily in a bad way. It was clever but maybe not necessary.
The film does take a little too long to tell its story and solve the mystery at 2 hours and 20 minutes, but it doesn’t really drag. There could have just been things cut out or condensed to make it a tad shorter.
The ending was also bittersweet, as it says a lot about the United States viewpoint on justice, but with how much joy the viewer feels in the third act through Bill’s development into his new French family, one almost wishes the film had a happier ending.
However, if the film won't give a happy ending, then it should give a tragic ending with death, prison, or heartbreak.
Instead, it goes right down the middle, with a little bit of everything. Maybe McCarthy got his wishes since there is a feeling of bittersweetness in how things are wrapped up. Well played.
Despite this, “Stillwater” has virtually no flaws and needs to be seen as it is one of the best things the cinema has to offer right now. It perfectly balances an intriguing mystery with character depth and development.