Five years ago, Bill Baker’s American daughter, Allison, was arrested in France as a murder suspect.
The media destroyed Allison. They painted her as the “devilish American lesbian” who killed her girlfriend in a fit of rage.
Allison says different. According to her, she wasn’t even at the apartment when her girlfriend, Lina, was killed. She claims a man at a local bar stole her purse and keys, went to the apartment, killed Lina and ran off.
Well, nobody ever found the man or evidence proving that Allison was innocent. She was thrown in prison, and for the past five years, Bill’s been visiting her in Marseilles, France, bringing her clean clothes and keeping her company while working in between construction and oil rig jobs.
But now, new evidence has come to light.
Allison heard from an old professor, who heard from a new student, who heard from her best friend, that a guy at a party was bragging about killing a girl five years ago and never getting caught.
The evidence is flighty and heresay, at best, so Allison’s lawyer isn’t going to try to reopen the case. But Bill’s not so easily convinced. He believes in Allison’s innocence, and he’s willing to do whatever he must in order to free her from prison.
Bill befriends a French woman, Virginie, after helping her daughter, Maya, get a key for their hotel room when Virginie is running late. Virginie repays him by acting as a translator as Bill searches for the new suspect (Akim) and later offering Bill a place to stay.
Maya and Bill take to one another quickly, with Maya teaching Bill French and Bill teaching Maya English. This relationship helps Virginie as a single mom and gives Maya a sort of surrogate father.
When Bill gets an ex-cop to run a DNA test on someone he thinks is Akim, the man rightfully turns Bill in, suspecting that Bill has done something illegal to obtain the DNA (which he had).
Despite Allison’s actions and Bill’s poor relationship with her (see more in Negative Elements), Bill still loves Allison and never gives up on her.
Bill and his mother-in-law are Christians who pray before every meal. Bill also prays earnestly for Allison both when she’s in prison and later when she lands in the hospital for a short time. Allison, Virginie and Maya all join Bill in prayer, but it’s clear none of them share his faith.
Allison tries to follow a Muslim concept that teaches people to accept their fates. A couple pulls a family Bible from the wreckage of a tornado. A cross hangs in someone’s home.
When Bill first moves in with Virginie, their relationship is platonic, and we even see Virginie kissing another man (and later hear that she spent the night with him). However, as time goes on, the two develop a romantic relationship and we see them making out in their undergarments. (Future scenes show them waking up in bed together, implying that they are having sex.)
A woman swims topless, and we see parts of her exposed breasts. Allison asks if Virginie is a stripper and whether or not she and Bill are having sex.
Allison is gay, and people quote the media stories from her trial that focused on her sexuality more than the facts of the case.
Men and women kiss each other on both cheeks in the traditional French greeting. We learn that Maya’s dad was a “fling.” A man makes a crude comment about sex to Bill. We see several shirtless fans at a soccer game. Bill exits the bathroom wearing nothing but a towel.
We learn that Allison’s mom killed herself. And later on, Allison tries to take her own life in prison. (We see her on a respirator in the hospital and later with bruises on her neck.)
While searching for Akim, Bill is jumped by Akim’s friends. Though he fights back, he’s knocked to the ground and kicked repeatedly. He is taken to a hospital, where we see several bruises and cuts on his face.
Bill knocks a man out and kidnaps him, duct-taping him to a chair in a windowless basement. He feeds the man and allows him to walk around for a little bit each day, but it’s clear the man is terrified as he begs Bill to release him.
When a girl refuses to give Bill information, he grabs her roughly and Virginie explains that he cannot force the girl to stay. (It’s clear the girl is terrified of being targeted for “snitching.”) Bill also rips a paper out of another man’s hand while the man is trying to write down some information. We hear that he punched a reporter during Allison’s trial.
Several people discuss gun laws, and Bill says he owns a few guns. Maya gets into trouble at school for fighting.
Obviously, Allison’s girlfriend was murdered—stabbed, in fact. [Spoiler Warning] However, we learn that Allison was not responsible. She had had a fight with Lina and hired Akim to get Lina out of their apartment. Akim misunderstood and killed the girl instead, which Allison still feels remorse for since she never wanted Lina dead.
There are 30 uses of the f-word and 25 of the s-word (and some of these are in French with English subtitles). We also hear a few uses each of “a–,” “b–ch,” “d–k,” “d–n” and “h—.” And God’s name is also misused three times.
We learn that Bill used to have a drug and drinking problem, though he claims to be clean now. He and others smoke cigarettes. Some people have drinks with their meals.
Allison has a very poor image of her father, repeatedly calling him a “F***-up.” She warns Virginie not to rely on him because she believes he will inevitably let Virginie down.
Her caution is not unwarranted since Bill wasn’t present for her childhood. After her mom died, Allison was raised by her grandmother. And when she went to collect her mom’s things from a storage container, she found it empty since Bill had neglected to pay the rental fees. Furthermore, Bill endangers Virginie and Maya by kidnapping a man (while Maya sleeps in nearby car) and keeping him in their basement. When Maya finds out, Bill asks her to keep it a secret, which results in Maya lying to the police for Bill. Rightfully, Virginie asks Bill to leave after this incident despite the heartbreak it causes.
But despite Allison’s disdain and mistrust of her dad, she also recognizes that she isn’t much different from him. At first, she fights this, wanting to be better than her dad. But as time goes on (the girl is in prison, after all), she seems to sadly accept that she and her dad are both very messed-up people, made even sadder by the fact that neither of them actually want to change.
Allison’s laywer tells Bill not to pursue Akim on his own since it would be giving Allison false hope. He ignores this and tells Allison that her lawyer is looking into it. When Allison discovers his deceit, she is heartbroken.
Several people act quite racist towards those of Arab lineage. One man offers to lie in court about who Akim is because he believes all Arab people are guilty of something. He says Americans have the same issue with the Mexican “invasion.” A friend of Virginie’s worries that Bill might be racist as well.
People lie throughout. It can be inferred that Bill has a bad image of his own mother since when told that when his mother calls his mother-in-law, he wonders if his mom just wanted money. A few people are rude to Bill and pretend they don’t speak English to avoid him. Bill sneaks a letter out of prison for Allison. A girl shouts at her mother. A man urinates, with his back facing the camera. We learn that Bill is an ex-con.
In a weird way, Stillwater almost reminded me of Taken. But instead of a man with a very particular set of skills traipsing around Europe trying to rescue his daughter from a human-trafficking ring, we have an average Joe trying to find the guy his daughter says is guilty by showing his picture to everyone in Marseilles.
In both cases we have a fractured father-daughter relationship and a father willing to fight for his daughter. But that’s about where the similarities end.
Bill is a decent fellow who’s trying to atone for the sins of his past. But his methods are somewhat lacking. There’s something to be said for wanting to get Allison out of prison, but the truth is, her hands aren’t entirely clean.
Both people lie to each other and to the authorities. And really, if they had just followed the law, things probably would’ve been a lot easier for them.
But as they both say, “Life is brutal.” And so is this film.
Language is foul, Bill is nearly beaten to death by some thugs, Allison tries to kill herself and when Bill finally finds happiness in Virginie and Maya, he blows it by putting them in danger for his own vendetta.
I could say that it seems Bill learned something from the experience. He recognizes that he had a good thing with Virginie and Maya. But when he and Allison return home, Allison is resolved to live out her life as a screw-up. And I fear that for all his good intentions, Bill will resort back to his defaults as well.
Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and indulging in her “nerdom,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything she loves, such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.