"Stillwater" is a film that takes its audience on an unexpected journey.
The path on that journey is sometimes messy, but with a strong cast - headlined by Matt Damon - and solid direction from Tom McCarthy ("Spotlight") it is an effective drama with impressive, fleshed out characters.
Damon plays Bill, a roughneck from Oklahoma. As the film opens he appears to be a drifter going from job to job, but in the first of many turns in the script Bill picks up and heads to France to see his estranged daughter Allison (Abigail Breslin). She left Oklahoma to attend college in Marseille, but is now in prison for murdering her roommate who she was linked to romantically.
Allison gets information she thinks can prove her innocence and asks Bill to take it to her lawyer. When they opt to not act on her tip, Bill decides to hunt down the lead himself. In most films this is where the fish out of water who hunts down the bad guys story kicks in, but "Stillwater" opts for a different - fresher path.
While trying to find this person Bill is befriended by a French stage actress named Virginie (Camille Cotton) and they develop a friendship that extends to her young daughter (Lilou Siauvaud who is fantastic).
Once this story kicks in the film takes a more personal and reflective turn, with all the characters still trying to make amends for missteps in their past.
Damon's work is extraordinary, with the actor virtually disappearing in the role. It's some of his strongest work in recent memory, with Damon making this a character the audience can easily identify with.
Cotton and Breslin are strong as well, the kind of well-written characters that can carry a movie even when the script is flawed.
That is the case with "Stillwater" with some moments in the final third feeling a little bit out of sync with some of the earlier moments. Ultimately, McCarthy is able to reel it back in - allowing his talented cast to elevate the material.
This is a film that is willing to take chances, but never fails its characters - creating an honest and stirring drama.