By Jeffrey Anderson,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Excellent, character-driven crime drama; violence, language.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Movie is mainly about making hard choices to help one person at others' expense. The choice comes at a high price, and the price is paid, but the movie indicates that there was no other course of action for these characters; they would have made the same choices again.
Positive Role Models
Bill Baker faces danger and difficult odds to free his daughter from prison; he stops at nothing in pursuit of his goal, even sacrificing his own happiness and possibly his own freedom. At the same time, he offers a portrait of the most stubborn, bullheaded, and marginally rude qualities drawn from stereotypes about people from the United States. He's sometimes kind and helpful, but other times he makes poor choices and acts brashly. In a smaller role, Virginie is extremely helpful to a man she barely knows, offering to translate, drive him around, etc. Supporting characters make racist remarks.
Violence & Scariness
Main character is beat up by a gang -- punched, kicked. Bloody wounds shown. Main character shoulder-slams another character, punches him hard in the face, knocks him out. Character attempts suicide by hanging (off-screen); shown in hospital. Another reference to suicide. Reference to punching someone.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Woman swims topless; her breasts are semi-visible under the water and from the side. Kissing, foreplay. Woman in bra and underwear.
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Very strong language, with uses of "f--k," "s--t," "dumbass," "damn," "hell," "scumbags." Racist dialogue includes "look at all these monkeys," "they all look alike," etc.
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Products & Purchases
Instagram is part of the story.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Cigarette smoking. Main character lives a sober lifestyle; several references to his earlier alcohol dependency.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Stillwater is a drama about an Oklahoma man named Bill Baker (Matt Damon) who travels to Marseille, France, to help his daughter (Abigail Breslin) get out of prison. A group of men beats Bill up, punching and kicking him, with bloody wounds shown. Bill shoulder-slams another character and punches him hard in the face, knocking him out. A character attempts suicide, and suicide is discussed. A woman swims topless, with a breast semi-visible in an underwater shot. Characters kiss and undress each other; a woman is seen in her underwear. Language is quite strong, with frequent uses of "f--k," "s--t," and other words; supporting characters also make racist remarks. People smoke cigarettes, and Bill is said to be sober, having once had an alcohol dependency. Loosely inspired by the true story of Amanda Knox, this is a meticulous, detailed, slow-burn movie that goes much deeper than its plot synopsis suggests; it's dark, but quite thoughtful and powerful.
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A slow burn character driven film
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What's the Story?
In STILLWATER, Bill Baker (Matt Damon) is an oil worker in Stillwater, Oklahoma. He prepares for a trip, the latest of many, to Marseille, France, to visit his daughter, Allison (Abigail Breslin). Allison has been in prison for five years after being found guilty of murdering her roommate, but she has always maintained her innocence -- and now she has an idea who the real killer could have been. She asks Bill to deliver a letter to her lawyer, but the lawyer immediately shuts down the idea. In his hotel, Bill befriends a local woman, Virginie (Camille Cottin), and her 9-year-old daughter, Maya (Lilou Siauvaud). Unable to afford a private investigator, Bill decides to stay and hunt for the killer himself, with Virginie's help. He starts staying at her place -- and to become a father figure for Maya. Time passes, and then the killer shows his face.
Is It Any Good?
Like director Tom McCarthy's best movies, this slow-burn neo-noir unfolds as a detailed, nuanced character study, with no detail too small and plot twists layered expertly into the tapestry. A plot synopsis or a trailer can't do justice to the impressive way that Stillwater plays out, with McCarthy (The Station Agent, Spotlight, etc.) making full use of the film's 140-minute running time to dig deep into human emotions and hard choices. One of the key scenes -- Bill spotting the killer at a crowded soccer match -- comes at a moment after the movie has lulled us into a sense of comfort. Consequently, the discovery comes as a jaw-dropping shock rather than a routine twist.
In the midst of the storytelling, Stillwater deals with outsiders' presence in places that are foreign to them and the way that they can be viewed through lenses of hate, suspicion, or mistrust. Bill is portrayed as a bullheaded, pushy American, with sunglasses parked over his grim face or perched on top of his dirty baseball cap. (Damon gives an impeccable, immersive performance.) He shoves his way into situations, demanding to know whether anyone speaks English, unafraid -- or unaware -- of being rude. His slow transformation into someone who cares about others feels genuine, even though it can't fix his ultimate character flaw, which is the reason the movie is really a noir. In the end, Stillwater brilliantly, brutally turns its lens back on the Americans.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about Stillwater's violence. How did it make you feel? Was it exciting? Shocking? What did the movie show or not show to achieve this effect? Why is that important?
How does the movie handle the topic of suicide? When is it important to talk about mental health, especially if you're worried about a friend or family member? What resources are available to help both kids and adults?
Does Bill make the right decision by kidnapping Akim? What does he gain from this choice? What does he lose? What were his other options?
Is smoking glamorized here? Are there consequences for smoking? Why does that matter?
How is Bill's alcohol dependency discussed? Is his sobriety shown in a positive light?
- In theaters: July 30, 2021
- On DVD or streaming: August 20, 2021
- Cast: Matt Damon, Abigail Breslin, Camille Cottin
- Director: Tom McCarthy
- Studio: Focus Features
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 140 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language
- Last updated: June 3, 2023
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