Life is brutal, isn’t it? Many of us think that we can label life and then magically come up with a meaning. But to be honest, none of us understands it completely. Through art, stories, and spirituality, we try to discover it. Maybe, its real meaning lies in those “efforts.” Through Stillwater, director Tom McCarthy also makes an effort to help his protagonist discover the truth and then maybe find a meaning to it. But is there any truth at all or only stories to tell?
Stillwater is a Crime Thriller that centers a father on an expedition to save his daughter from a foreign prison. In his journey, he not only tries to rescue his daughter but also himself. Such a layered conflict can only be pulled by a polished actor like Matt Damon, and he pulls it off gracefully.
‘Stillwater’ Plot Summary
After losing his oil working gig, Bill Baker (Matt Damon) involves himself in a series of odd construction jobs to survive in Stillwater, Oklahoma. He visits his weary mother-in-law, Sharon, to inquire about his daughter, Allison (Abigail Breslin). Allison was convicted for the murder of her roommate and lover, Hamdi Lina. She has been sentenced to 9 years in prison in Marseille, France, of which she has already served four. Until now, Sharon has been paying regular visits to Allison, but this time, she pleads with Bill to see his daughter after four years.
With no work at hand and Sharon taking care of the expenses, Bill boards a flight to Marseille. He meets Allison in prison, and after an awkward conversation between the distant father-daughter, Allison requests Bill to deliver her letter to her lawyer, Maitre Leparq. Allison informs Maitre about her professor’s Patrick Okonedo hearsay that reveals a guy named Akim in her letter. Akim approached Patrick’s outreach student, Souad, and claimed to stab a girl years ago and got away with it at a party. Allison and Patrick thinks that Akim must be the same guy who killed Lina. However, Leparq refuses to participate in any such conspiracy and believes that the Judge will never open a case based on hearsay.
Allison is hopeful that Leparq will accept her request and help her investigate Akim. Bill doesn’t want to disappoint his daughter and thus decides to plunge on his own. He befriends a single mother, Virginie (Camille Cottin), and her eight-year-old daughter Maya (Lilou Siauvaud), who help Bill in thick and thin in a land of foreign language. With the help of Virginie, Bill digs out some concrete clues related to the case. But even with such massive efforts, will Bill be able to prove his daughter’s innocence?
The Curious Case of Akim
Bill was on a hunt to track down Akim and get his DNA that could be compared to the unknown DNA found on the crime scene. An ex-police officer, Dirosa, offered to help Bill find Akim, but he demanded 12 thousand Euros in exchange for his service. Bill, who was already living on his mother-in-law’s expenses, decided to search for Akim by himself. Bill and Virginie met Souad, who Akim approached at a party, but the girl refused to snitch on Akim as he was closely related to a street gang. Virginie and her Nedjma stalked Souad’s Instagram profile. They downloaded group photographs of all the students in Allison’s social circle before Lina’s death. Bill showed this pictorial evidence to Allison, who spotted Akim in one of the pictures, “a thin shady Arab guy with long hair.”
Bill scouted the sub-urban areas of Kalliste and fortunately found Akim, but failed to get a grasp of him. The gang members grabbed Bill and thrashed him severely. Akim was never seen again, but Bill stayed back in Marseille in the hope of finding him someday. 4 months later, Bill started working as a construction worker and has shifted to Virginie’s apartment to save rent. He struck a strong bond with Maya and looked after her when Virginie was away or busy with her theatrical rehearsals. One night, Bill took Maya to the Olympique de Marseille game and spotted Akim there. He followed Akim while Maya was sleeping in the truck, and finding the right moment; Bill abducted Akim.
Bill locked up Akim in the building’s basement and contacted Dirosa to help him match the DNA without revealing the location or identity of Akim. In captivity, Akim informed Bill, in broken English, that Allison paid him to “put Lina out.” He said that she paid him through her necklace that said, “Stillwater.” Bill was stunned for a moment and tried to inquire Sharon about the Stillwater necklace but met dead ends.
‘Stillwater’ Ending, Explained
Before Bill could search for the missing piece of the puzzle, Dirosa informed his seniors about Bill and his wild schemes. The police visited Virginie’s apartment and searched the basement but didn’t find Akim there. Virginie had already released Akim when Dirosa visited the building and inquired about the basement. She probably would have opened the paddle lock with a spare key that was seen in the apartment.
After the police’s visit and inquiry, Virginie disclosed to Bill that she knew everything he did and asked him to leave the house immediately. She didn’t want any danger to hover over her daughter’s head due to Bill. Before leaving Marseille, Leparq communicated with Bill about the new evidence (Akim’s DNA) that surfaced and based on it, the Judge had agreed to reopen the investigation. Akim was never found, but the court of law released Allison. She returned to Oklahoma with Bill.
Back home, Bill brought the “Stillwater” necklace in the conversation. Allison realized that Bill knew her secret and thus confessed that she handed the chain to Akim to get Lina out of her apartment. Lina had been cheating on Allison. It became a reason for the constant brawl between the lovers. But Lina was not ready to leave the apartment, and thus in anger, Allison took drastic measures. Still, she didn’t intend on killing her. There is a thin line between what’s right and what’s wrong. Sometimes, it’s so transparent that one fails to understand when or where they crossed it. Was Allison a monster? No, but she never accepted the truth, not until Bill brought up the “Stillwater” necklace, making her a kind of grey. In a brutal life, I guess having a greyish persona in a quickly dying world is quite acceptable.
Did Allison go to Jail after that? No, but she did have a sense of loss as she lost her lover Lina by making some wrong decisions in life.
In the closing sequence, Allison visits Bill and asks him, “You miss them (Virginie and Maya).” Yes, sir, he misses them with all his heart, but life is brutal, and he can’t return. What’s lost is lost. For Bill, everything is different in America now, and nothing will ever be the same again. He doesn’t even recognize a life without Virginie and Maya.
Stillwater is a 2021 Crime Drama Film directed by Tom McCarthy. It stars Matt Damon in the lead role.