If you’ve seen a preview for Stillwater, then you’ve certainly noticed (and possibly were taken aback by) Matt Damon sporting a goatee. Then you may find out by watching the preview (or doing a Google search) that the title of the movie comes from the name of a town in Oklahoma. So, things might be starting to add up in your head about what type of guy Damon is playing, right? At least for me, I was immediately interested in the A-list actor’s role in this Tom McCarthy project. And if you read the plot description, the movie certainly sounds like a riff on the Taken franchise. (And Matt Damon recently discussed this on a podcast hosted by Marc Maron.) However, there is much more underneath the surface of Stillwater, and the result is a mostly character-driven drama that exceeds expectations.
Stillwater tells the story of an oil rig roughneck from Oklahoma, played by Damon, who travels to France every so often to visit his daughter (played by Abigail Breslin), who is currently in prison for a murder she claims she didn’t commit. The combination of new evidence coming to light and help from friends that have become like family to him, Damon’s character, Bill Baker, has a new purpose in life, as he tries to get his daughter out of prison. Stillwater, for the most part, is a quiet, fish-out-of-water story with occasional thrills here and there. Life lessons are learned, and tragedy is the hovering theme. So, yes, it is a mixture of many things you could pull from other movies, and it mostly works. Despite the 140-minute runtime, you feel the length of the movie once the halfway point arrives. But in the end, it’s a good lesson about family and what we would do for the ones we care for the most, all of which is elevated by the cast and script.
Stillwater features two of the best performances from its main two actors in recent memory. For Matt Damon, this is arguably his best performance since 2015’s The Martian. You might judge his character, Bill, like the cover of a book. However, there’s much more to Bill, thanks to his drive, and perhaps even his humility, as a father seeking justice, and Damon sells us on it. For Abigail Breslin, this is easily her best performance since she made audiences laugh out loud in 2006’s Little Miss Sunshine. As with Damon’s Bill, Breslin’s character, Allison Baker, there is much more to her underneath the surface. While audiences might have questions about both characters by movie’s end, there’s no doubt that what these two actors bring to Stillwater is the thing that makes this feature much more engaging.
There’s no doubt that audiences will be talking more about Stillwater than they regularly would after seeing most other movies. In a couple of areas, director Tom McCarthy gives the audience so much to digest, and it hits home for many families. Life, love, tragedy, sacrifice, morality. The list could go on and on (minus the murder, of course). Some might find this to be a bit too much to take in. However, you should stick with it, because the payoff makes for a thought provoking finished product.