By Joanna Langfield

This Stillwater does, indeed, run deep. What initially appears to be a dramatic love story inspired by recent history is far more ambitious and complex. And revealing in ways we may not expect or even feel particularly good about.

Matt Damon stars as Arkansas native Bill Baker, an unemployed roughneck, who visits his daughter in Marseille, France, where she has been imprisoned for the murder of her college roommate. Inspired by the Amanda Knox story, we may think we are on a pretty direct path, American father assuring the release of his mis-judged little girl. But filmmaker Tom McCarthy isn’t going for “based on a true story” storytelling here. He creates characters who weave their own ways. And while some of their choices may make us cringe, upon reflection, we have to admit, like it or not, these characters are very, very human.

It’s a treat for those of us who fell under her spell in Call My Agent to see Camille Cottin bring a loose buttoned warmth to her necessary, but somewhat contrived, role as Bill’s interpreter, friend, etc. And who couldn’t fall in love with young Lilou Siauvaud, who gives as naturally charming a performance as any child can? But the real push/pull of the sometimes wandering plot is the relationship between Bill and his daughter, Alison, smartly played by Abigail Breslin. We watch as the two, seemingly very different people, navigate the impossibilities of a foreign legal system, as well as what seem to be the impossibilities of their own love for one another.

And I can’t say enough about Damon, who gives, if it isn’t the best performance of his career, it sure is up there. His Bill is a stalwart, bulky, quiet man, proud of his country, maybe not so proud of some of the things he’s done. Bill’s trying to do better. But can he? Together, Damon and McCarthy are giving us the look at a side of America, and Americans, some others have tried to do, but failed. This Bill makes us feel many things, as we all search to understand one another.