Right after the opening shot of a broken doorway with Matt Damon playing Bill Baker in STILLWATER, a Hispanic actor states, “I don’t think Americans like to change.” Yet, change is what this movie is about, or at least trying to transform as much as we can.
The plot of STILLWATER is a combo of the SERIAL podcast and the famous Amanda Knox story. Yet, in this tale, a college student named Allison (Abigail Breslin) has been imprisoned for a crime in France, and it’s up to her estranged father to prove her innocence. But her dad is a broken man. Remember, we know this because we saw him in a not-so-subtle shot of a broken doorway in the film’s opening.
We watch Matt Damon turn into the quintessential man that looks like a Trump supporter. Complete with a worn-out baseball cap and a thick Oklahoman accent. This movie could have dove easily into deeper plots around unconscious biases and racism. But, instead, it wisely uses that as a jumping-off point for a father that loves his daughter.
The idea that a man can lose his family once is devasting. Yet, STILLWATER sets Bill up to possibly lose it twice. His second family quickly becomes a french mom (Camille Cottin) and her daughter (Lilou Siavaud). It’s in this detour that the film shines. Bill’s story of redemption with the French family has a lived-in feeling. These characters don’t need an entire plot. It’s enjoyable just watching the monotony of their days. Yet, good things can’t last forever, and the lesser Amanda Knox plotline rears its head into the story to take the foreground.
The theme that keeps coming up in STILLWATER is that of being “powerless and forgotten.” Whether that’s through racism, abuse, innocence, or an absentee father, that sense of not being in control of your destiny is explored over the plus two-hour runtime. Too bad that theme wasn’t wrapped in 90 minutes, with an extra focus on the French family. If it had, Tom SPOTLIGHT McCarthy would’ve had one of the best films of the year.
STILLWATER is playing in theaters.