‘Stillwater’ Review: A Pretty Slow and Genre-Confused Miss

“Stillwater” stars Matt Damon as an Oklahoman oil rig worker who travels to France and, with the help of a local woman (Camille Cottin), attempts to get his teen daughter (Abigail Breslin) out of prison for a crime she says she didn’t commit. Tom McCarthy directs a script he co-wrote.

Matt Damon has done more cameo work in recent years than starring roles, but he returns to the top of billing here. The plot sounds like it could be akin to “Taken” but the comparisons really start and end with “American dad goes to Europe to try and rescue his daughter” because “Stillwater” is an overlong, narratively confused slug of a film that only occasionally peaks the viewer’s interest.

Matt Damon is one of the more consistent actors in Hollywood, and has been able to give performances in drama, action, and comedy. This is one of his more “real” characters he’s played in a while, with Damon traveling to the Bible Belt to really get a feel for the dialect and mannerisms of the people from there. While it’s hard to see anyone but “Hollywood actor Matt Damon” every time he’s on screen (even under a thicker exterior and bushy goatee), it is still a decent turn from him.

He shares a nice, warm chemistry with Lilou Siauvaud, the nine-year-old daughter of Camille Cottin’s single mother. Siauvaud has a winning smile and some good delivery (including a baffled look whenever Damon says an English word she doesn’t know) and I think we’ll be seeing more of her in years to come.

Unfortunately the father figure dynamic is really all that works here, with the rest jumping between a romantic comedy, a revenge thriller, and a family drama. The first and final 45 minutes focus in on Damon’s attempts at finding a possible witness to the crime his daughter is accused of committing, and on their own they have flashes of intrigue. Sandwiched between that storyline are 50 minutes of Damon playing house with Cottin and Siauvaud, fixing lights and going to dinner parties. These stories do not gel well at all and what’s worse is the pacing is slow and momentum non-existent. There was a point I checked my watch, saw we were only 55 minutes into this 140 minute film, and had my heart skip a beat.

“Stillwater” means well and by all intents and purposes is competently made. However it is simply put a lot of movie, and is boring far too often to excuse. If they could’ve trimmed off a fair amount of fat then maybe there’s a good 115 minute project somewhere in here but like Damon’s lawyer tells him, at a point you have to stop wishing and just accept reality.

Critics Rating: 5/10

Focus Features

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