The story owes an obvious debt to the Amanda Knox case, with Abigail Breslin playing Allison, an American college student convicted of the murder of her roommate and lover. Her father, Bill Baker (Damon), travels from Oklahoma to the prison where she is currently imprisoned in Marseille, continuing an investigation that could lead to her release.
Yet, far from the ordinary Hitchcockian man who invariably triumphed in such situations (think Jimmy Stewart in “The Man Who Knew Too Much”), Bill has his own troubled background, including drug addiction, and is not. really a detective.
Unable to speak the local language, he ends up forming a relationship with an actress, Virginie (Camille Cottin, recently seen in “Call My Agent”), forging improbable bonds with her and her young daughter (Lilou Siauvaud), surrogate mother of the parental bond which he largely squandered.
The film thus runs on parallel tracks, with Bill establishing some sort of life in Marseille while also struggling to find a way to exonerate Allison, despite being asked to abandon her.
“The last thing you want to give your daughter is false hope,” his lawyer tells her, but driven by forces within him – one of which is a desire to redeem himself – Bill can’t seem to give up the fight.
McCarthy was originally inspired by the Knox story, and an early draft of the script lay dormant for several years. In the meantime, the world – and America’s place in it – has evolved, adding another element to Bill’s efforts.
Because McCarthy and his collaborators offer much more of an independent film than a studio product, “Stillwater” (the name of a town in Oklahoma) takes unexpected turns, which turns out to be a mixed blessing. While the film keeps audiences off balance about what really happened and what will happen, it runs for nearly two hours and 20 minutes, fostering impatience to reach the end and less satisfaction when it does. is ultimately the case.
Thank McCarthy for building a movie around an imperfect protagonist and his search for redemption, and Damon for plunging wholeheartedly into a role that eschews the usual heroic clichés.
Ultimately, however, “Stillwater” is long but not particularly deep – or at least, not deep enough.
“Stillwater” premieres July 30 in theaters across the United States. It is classified R.