By Mark Saldana

Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)

On the surface, the timing of this movie’s story seems totally wrong, given that it involves a white American supposedly wrongfully accused of a murder. What I mean is that there are so many people of color in America wrongfully under arrest, awaiting trial, or wrongfully prosecuted. Still, writer/director Tom McCarthy has a definite purpose in telling this fictional story. And even though I cannot reveal exactly what that purpose is (without spoiling the movie), I must say that this movie does more or less succeed. However, the movie does run on way too longer than necessary and this does take away from it’s intended effect. Nevertheless, Stillwater is a very enlightening and thought provoking film that audiences will either hate or appreciate.

Matt Damon stars as Bill Baker, a blue collar oil worker from Stillwater, Oklahoma who has a daughter currently in a French prison, serving time for murder. His daughter Allison (Abigail Breslin) has been prosecuted for the murder of her former lover, but has proclaimed her own innocence since the investigation began. Desparate to be released from prison, Allison asks her father Bill to relay a message to her lawyer containing details about the real killer. As Bill learns more about his daughter’s case, he decides to take matters into his own hands and purue the assailant that has evaded the Marseilles law enforcement.

Working with writers Marcus Hinchey, Thomas Bidegain, and Noé Debré, writer/director Tom McCarthy delivers a film that is undeniably thought provoking, but gets nearly derailed by some of the movie’s excesses. Stillwater runs on way too long. The movie’s editor could trimmed several scenes that don’t need to be there. The film doesn’t necessarily drag, but there is enough extraneous material that it could definitely do without. Nevertheless, the development of the Bill Baker character does help the film succeed, to a certain level, in delivering the story’s hard-hitting message.

Matt Damon’s performance definitely helps to drive this message to heart. His acting here makes Bill Baker less of a caricature and more of a real down-to-earth person with which audiences can appreciate. The fact that he is very much a fish-out-of-water character, and a highly likable one at that, certainly helps to make him somewhat relatable. Abigail Breslin gives a solid turn as a desparate American lady who desires to escape her current situation, but knows that her background is her main disadvantage. The rest of the cast gives some admirable performances and add to the dimensions of this dramatic tale.

Stillwater, despite its problems, should make audiences think about America’s place in the world and how we are, but one of many nations with a wide variety of different cultures and different beliefs. Now, even though we, as Americans, often have high opinions of ourselves, we are all humans with the same weaknesses and proclivities that are embedded in our DNA. And that would be the main takeaway from this movie.

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