A change of pace comes for Matt Damon (Ford v Ferrari, Jason Bourne) is this deliberate drama from Tom McCarthy, director of the Oscar winning Spotlight and the lesser known independent vehicle for Richard Jenkins, The Visitor. Like his turn in the memorable film that he co-wrote with Ben Affleck, Good Will Hunting, he toils in construction, being unemployed in the oil rigging field, in a sprawling Stillwater.
In an unfussy turn, Damon is burly, goateed, recovering addict Bill Baker, a God-fearing Oklahoma roughneck (meeting some of those MAGA qualities) out to help his incarcerated daughter Allison (Abigail Breslin) in Marseilles, France. She has been held in a prison for five years since as a university student convicted of murdering Lina, her Arab/French working class roommate and girlfriend. Expecting him to give a message to an attorney about a potential hot lead becomes fraught with racial politics especially when visiting a housing project.
The scenario of an anguish, suicidal young woman parallels the 2007 Amanda Knox case in Italy in the collaborative script in par by McCarthy and notable Thomas Bidegain. Though the title refers to an Oklahoma town, a kind of simmering quietude permeates the proceedings in what initially feels like something out of the Taken films when pertaining to certain familial issues.
A chance for redemption to make good from the prison leads to no stone left unturned. Allison has a raw, bitter side given what happened to her mother and her inability to count on her dad. In a path down varying parts of the spectrum in Marseilles, ominous texturing carries with it much moral relativism as a person of interest (French thespian Idir Azoughi) is confronted at a football game.
Bill will be on an extended visit as landing work on his field helps foot the bills as his initial two week stay is buoyed by a lead in his investigation. Assisting him in legal matters and language obstacles is Virginie (Camille Cottin) a single mother and stage actress whose nine-year old Maya (Lilou Siauvaud) takes a liking to him as Bill reclines at the local Best Western hotel. It’s a transition (in a way) from in a parallel to real life that begins to reveal how close (or interwoven) sincerity and malevolence can be.
In what has interesting qualities thanks in part to the Gallic tendencies and Damon’s guileless grounding also can be a bit discordant in a didactic manner. The paternal and romantic ways during Bill’s rugged determinism elicit a certain fascination as Cottin matches up well with her longtime bankable US counterpart who a decade ago was a part of Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion that now has a more eerie prescience about it. Even if her shifting character is more of a placard of subtext as Bill’s checkered past may have kept him from a civic duty.
It’s likely that Stillwater may not play as well on this side of the Atlantic in plumbing its motifs and locational sheen as the domestic discord strains to make strides. Even if Breslin as the estranged Allison isn’t that effectively rendered there is some endearing solace in an adorable Siauvaud. As less sunnier interludes are a sieve for authority and trauma to offer a more probing account for those less impatient types.