Without a need, Bill Baker (Matt Damon) would never have left Oklahoma. He earns his meager income as a skilled drill worker in the oil fields. With a baseball cap, goatee and his broad cross, he looks like the prototype of a down-to-earth redneck. But then we see him packing his bags with a routine jet setter and boarding a plane to Marseille.
“Welcome back, Mr. Baker,” says the man at the front desk at the hotel. Bill has once again traveled to the port city to visit his daughter Allison (Abigail Breslin), who was sentenced to nine years in prison for the murder of her lover. Father and daughter don’t exactly have a warm relationship. Allison believes he has found a new lead on the real culprit and hopes the case will be reopened. Your lawyer waves it away. Bill starts looking for the killer.
An American in Marseille who wants to cheat his daughter out of the clutches of a foreign judiciary – that sounds like an action film with Liam Neeson in “Taken” format. Matt Damon with relevant Jason Bourne experience would also fit into the picture here. But director and co-screenwriter Tom McCarthy (“Spotlight”) isn’t interested in a hero painting. The criminalistic part of the plot only serves as a narrative framework for a detailed character study. The tension here lies less in a sophisticated plot structure than in the successive discovery of a personality.
Tom McCarthy was loosely inspired by an actual case
Bill’s search for the culprit ends in disaster, and Allison turns away from him. But Bill stays in Marseille, moves in with the actress Virginie (Camille Cottin), whose little daughter Maya (outstanding: Lilou Siauvaud) he begins to lovingly care for. Virginie’s artist friends, who view the Ami with ethnographic interest, want to know whether he has a pistol or whether he voted for Trump. He lived with his patchwork surrogate family for four years when he accidentally discovered the face of the alleged perpetrator in a crowd and risked his new luck.
Tom McCarthy (“Spotlight”) was only loosely inspired by the case of Amanda Knox, who was falsely convicted of murder in Italy in 2009 and was only released after four years in prison. Knox has protested against the fact that the film tarnishes their story. The sensitivity is understandable, but leads past the film, which at best uses the case vaguely as a springboard. This is not about the dramatic consequences of a miscarriage of justice. McCarthy focuses on a fictional, damaged father-daughter relationship and stays away from speculation.
Matt Damon’s wonderfully minimalist performance makes sure of that. He plays this iceberg of a man with a sensitive stoicism that becomes more permeable with every minute of the film, without betraying the character to intrusive catharsis longings.
“Stillwater”, Director: Tom McCarthy, with Matt Damon, Abigail Breslin, Lilou Siauvaud, Camille Cottin, 139 minutes, FSK 12