Decisions Matter

Matt Damon stars as "Bill" in director Tom McCarthy's STILLWATER, a Focus Features release. Credit Jessica Forde / Focus Features

By Paul Hall

As a parent, you only want for the best for your kids. You want them to be happy, healthy and successful, but most of all to have a better life than you experienced.

In Stillwater, the new film from director Tom McCarthy, that path takes a detour from Oklahoma to France and back.

Bill Baker (Matt Damon) and his daughter Allison (Abigail Breslin) have not had the most idyllic life. Growing up in small-town Oklahoma, Bill has bounced from job to job and has not had the most active role in the life of his daughter. Allison has traveled to France for school and now only visits with her father occasionally.

While Bill believed for years that his daughter was destined for an Oklahoma State University experience right in Stillwater, Allison makes the decision to head to France for her studies. It is there that life changes for Allison, her father and everyone they both love.

Allison has been imprisoned in France, accused and convicted of killing her girlfriend. Her father is her support system, frequently traveling to visit her and bringing her supplies. When Allison entrusts her dad with delivering a message for her, she is a bit concerned about him completing the task. It is a simple note to those who have defended her: She has new proof that she wants them to look into that could set her free.

Stillwater is a film that balances mystery, suspense and the relationships that are impacted by one life-changing event. It succeeds in keeping the audience off-balance throughout and never really knowing what will come next.

Damon plays a role that is quite different from most of his past efforts. Bill is simple yet determined and searching for a variety of things, from ways to help his daughter to his own purpose in life. The varied storylines allow Damon to disappear into his role, which he thoroughly takes advantage of in his performance.

Although Stillwater is a bit messy in story structure, the supporting cast does its best with the progression of the story through some sticky moments. Breslin and Camille Cottin are tough to believe at times in the way they are portrayed. I liked Cottin as the Frenchwoman Virginie who takes Bill under her wing and develops a relationship that feels mutually beneficial.

Visually, I was drawn to the look of the variety of French culture and the juxtaposition with the Oklahoma landscape. The packed streets of even the poorest neighborhoods in France are a stark contrast to the dusty Oklahoma wilderness.

I liked Stillwater. It is a thinking man’s journey through relationships, life and the intersections of both. Our decisions matter, regardless of where you are physically or mentally.

Paul’s Grade: A-

Rated R
Stars: Matt Damon, Abigail Breslin, Camille Cottin
Director: Tom McCarthy