Movie Review: Stillwater with Matt Damon

Matt Damon plays Bill Baker, who is the exact opposite of his character in The Martian. That astronaut wanted to “science the s***” out of his dilemma. The roughneck in this film stops working on oil rigs to try to free his daughter (Abigail Breslin) from a French prison, where she’s accused of murdering her female lover. 

Upon first seeing Damon on screen sporting a goatee and a camouflage baseball cap...I thought he wouldn’t be able to pull off this hick Oklahoman dad. We watch as he struts through the airport, with an accent and worn jeans, and you soon forget it’s Damon. Once the story kicks into gear, he’s just a concerned dad.

In Oklahoma he does construction work and is looking for a new job, while eating fast food, visiting his mother, and drinking beer on the couch. In Marseille, he goes into Liam Neeson-lite mode. He’s trying to find the guy his daughter said murdered the woman in her apartment. He has a photo, but...with his southern accent and lack of understanding of the French language, he doesn’t get far. And he doesn’t have those butt kicking skills Liam has. In fact, in one scene, he takes a bit of a beating for going into the wrong neighborhood.

One pleasant surprise is, even with Bill as the butt of jokes among the French woman and her artsy, acting friends (“Did you vote for Trump?” “How many guns do you have?”), he doesn’t come across as the dumb hick stereotype. Perhaps credit can go to writer/director Tom McCarthy [I think Win Win, The StationAgent, and The Visitor are all brilliant films; his Oscar winning Spotlight was good, but highly overrated]. It was a smart choice for McCarthy to deal with the fish-out-of-water elements, and daughter/dad dynamics, instead of just trying to solve the mystery. 

After Bill realizes that the judges and attorneys aren’t interesting in pursuing Akim, a guy at the party who may have been involved in the murder, he starts his own investigation. The friendship he has with Virginie (Camille Cottin) seems to work, even if you initially wonder why she’d spent so much time helping him. Yet it organically grows in a believable way, as we see how her daughter really takes to him, and she doesn’t have a father figure in her life.

That 8-year-old, Maya (Lilou Siavaud) is adorable, and we love watching these two start to bond. And just as we’re thinking Bill might be the best dad ever, we find out a bit about his past. And some of his current decisions aren’t the best, either. So, he babysits and fixes things in the house by day, and searches for Akim by night. 

There were a few scenes that stressed me out, and had me on the edge of my seat. That’s rare for a movie of this type.

There were a few weak spots, though. It was two hours and 20 minutes, and didn’t need to be that long (although my wife and I were never bored). There are times it’s a bit hokey, and you can’t completely buy everything that’s happening. I also noticed that two different characters, at different times, said “As you wish.” Uh...I’m not watching ThePrincess Bride. And, one of my screenwriter pet peeves, is when different characters say a specific phrase. That’s lazy screenwriting.

This is a completely fictional story, inspired by the Amanda Knox case. It’s an interesting movie, and it seems Matt Damon channels David Keith (An Officer and a Gentleman) wonderfully.

I also thought of the song Never Been to Spain.

The lyrics in my head were changed to: 

Well I’ve never been to Marseille, France/But I’ve been to Oklahoma

They say Jason Bourne’s from there/But I really don’t remember....

3 ½ stars out of 5.

Photo: Dreamworks SKG

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