Tom McCarthy directs Damon and a stunning Camille Cottin in a film that struggles to meet its goals.
Presented yesterday out of competition in Cannes, Stillwater is a funny hybrid project, straddling Hollywood and France: co-scripted by Thomas Bidegain and Noé Debré, the film is directed by Tom McCarthy (Spotlight), was filmed largely in Marseille and is played by Matt Damon and Camille Cottin. The story of Bill Baker (Damon), an oil driller from the depths of Oklahoma, who settles in the Marseille city to try to have his daughter (Abigail Breslin) exonerated, accused of a murder she denies to have committed. Blocked by the language barrier, he asks for help with translation from Virginie (Cottin) and her young daughter, with whom he befriends.
Entirely made on promises never kept, Stillwater disguises himself first as a forensic film, then as a thriller, before branching off towards the revenge movie for a few moments … to better do a 180 degrees in the direction of romance and family drama. A chain of false leads that are not always happy, like so many somewhat crude metaphors of the inner journey of his hero, a gruff redneck in search of redemption, openness to the world and family ties. The script does not avoid improbable twists and turns, which dilute a little the best idea of the film: to describe the United States through the eyes of the French, and France through that of an American.
Fortunately, Matt Damon (formidable in a pure compositional role) and Camille Cottin firmly hold the house (their duet scenes are the best), allowing Tom McCarthy to get most of his message across on prejudice and difference, as well as unfolding a rather well-regarded column of the working class.
Stillwater will be released on September 22 in France.