Cannes Film Fest 2021: Stillwater–Matt Damon, Star of Tom McCarthy’s Dramatic Thriller, Talks about his Character and Movie

Stillwater: Cannes Film Fest 2021 (World Premiere, Out of Competition)

Matt Damon, a multiple Golden Globe contender and two-time winner, returned to the Cannes Film Fest on Thursday night to showcase his latest movie, Stillwater.

This highly anticipated feature is directed by Tom McCarthy, an indie filmmaker (The Visitor) whose latest film, Spotlight, was a Golden Globe and Oscar winner.

Focus Features will release the dramatic thriller in the U. S. on July 30; originally, it was slated for theatrical showings in November, which is the center of the awards season.

One can only guess the behind-the-scenes politics of international film festivals.  However, both industry and press members wondered why Stillwater, a likable, star-studded, timely political drama, was not included in the more prestigious main competition, in a year in which there are not many American pictures.

In the film, Damon plays a variation of what has become his specialty, “The Everyman,” a regular, ordinary American man.

In this particular saga, he is cast as Bill Baker, a rather stoic Oklahoma construction worker whose daughter (Abigail Breslin) is imprisoned for murder in France, after being convicted of killing her ex-girlfriend while studying abroad.

Obviously, the scenario is reminiscent of the long, scandalous case of Amanda Know, which has been portrayed in various screen versions.

As years roll by, and the number of lawyers and expenses involved pile up, Baker works tirelessly to prove his child’s innocence.  During that process, he befriends a single mom (Camille Cottin) and her young daughter (Lilou Siauvaud), and perhaps more significantly, he gains a better understanding of his value system, and how Americans are perceived by other countries.

On his way to the red carpet, Damon posed for many seflies with fans and was more than willing to comply with autograph requests.

Then, prior to the film’s beginning, he lifted up his phone to record the audiences’ standing ovation as he entered the theater.

As the credits rolled, the vet actor, usually more in control of his feelings in public, began to tear up, as he observed the ecstatic cheers from the appreciative crowds.

Once the film ended, Damon received another standing ovation, with the audience clapping five minutes for him and his co-stars.

While filmmakers in Cannes don’t typically give speeches before or after their premieres, director McCarthy broke with that tradition, when he spontaneously grabbed a mic after the screening.

“I’m overwhelmed to be here in Cannes, I’ve been so greatly influenced by the cinema of this country, and the cinema of Europe,” McCarthy said. “It’s so inspiring to present a film to this amazing audience in this iconic theater. No wonder it’s called Palais du Cinema. That’s all I can come up with in this instant-tradition moment,” he added.

Meanwhile, newcomer Siauvaud, who plays sort of a surrogate daughter to Damon’s character, got her own kudos. The on-screen chemistry between the two–which represents the tale’s emotional center–contributes immensely to the picture’s overall impact.

The live audience at the Palais was touched when the two thespians embraced after the screening was over and the end credits rolled.

Most critics in Cannes praised Damon’s performance in the demanding role of Baker, a part that requires him to be in–and carry–nearly every scene.

Damon has been nominated six times for Golden Globes (in various categories), beginning with Good Will Hunting (1997), which earned him (and Ben Affleck) the Best Screenplay Oscar and Globe Award, and most recently Ridley Scott’s The Martian (2016), for which he earned a Golden Globe for Best Actor.

In order to construct his character in Stillwater, Damon said at a Friday press conference, that he went “deep into red state politics.”

To portray Oklahoma oil rig worker Bill Baker, a father who sacrifices everything to help free his daughter from French prison, Damon spent “absolutely critical time doing research in the state.”

One of the biggest laughs at the movie’s premiere came when Bill Baker is asked by a French woman if he voted for Donald Trump. He did not, he responds, but only because a prior felony kept him from voting at all!

Asked to elaborate, Damon, who is known for his liberal politics in real life, reaffirmed that Baker is “the kind of guy who absolutely would have supported Trump as President.”

“These guys don’t apologize for who they are, they don’t feel they have to,” Damon said, referring to his character being a “righteous, right wing roughneck.”

The actor and director recalled fondly the several road trips they had taken throughout Oklahoma prior to shooting their picture. They were surprised by the warm welcome they had received.  Said Damon, “Amazingly, we were invited into the very break rooms and backyard barbecues of the real men who had inspired my screen character.”