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The Ending Of Stillwater Explained

Even as streaming platforms become more and more vital to movies being released at all, Hollywood studios continue to roll out major motion pictures boasting the "Only in Theaters" tag. Not surprisingly, some of those movies are beginning to get lost in the shuffle, and it's safe to say the new indie crime drama "Stillwater" is among the overlooked. 

That film finds Matt Damon portraying a conservative, out-of-work roughneck named Bill who travels from Oklahoma to France in hopes of helping his daughter Allison (Abigail Breslin), who's stuck in a Marseille prison for killing her lover Lina, a murder she claims she did not commit. Once in town, language and cultural barriers hinder his attempts to right the perceived wrong, with the man eventually taking the matter of his daughter's justice into his own hands, and promptly coming face to face with the likely killer. From there, "Stillwater" pivots from low-key social drama to pulse-pounding thriller fit with narrative twists and turns aplenty. 

Given the rapid-fire way things break in the film's third act, those that did buy a ticket to see "Stillwater" might still be scratching their heads at the film's shocking final moments. Fear not, we're here to help you understand the ending of "Stillwater."  

A complicated sense of justice fuels Stillwater's finale

To fully understand the ending of "Stillwater," it helps to revisit the fateful moment that set the action in motion. Said moment comes early in the film, when Allison passes Bill a note written in French which portends she's heard a local man has been taking credit for the murder she was ultimately convicted of. Finding no help from Allison's attorney, Bill has a local acquaintance Virginie (Camille Cottin) translate the note for him, promptly enlisting her in helping him identify and hunt down the killer in hopes of getting the answers he needs to clear his daughter's name.

That task proves easy enough with a little social media sleuthing, though Bill's first encounter with the nefarious Akim (Idir Azougli) leaves him battered, bruised, and no closer to finding the truth. It also finds Allison enraged that he blew her shot at exoneration. A chance second encounter with Akim proves more fortuitous, with Bill tracking and kidnapping the petty criminal, holding him hostage as he awaits news of a DNA test that could prove his daughter's innocence. While it ultimately does, Bill is forced to reckon with both the morality of his actions and the ire of his friend Virginie, whose young daughter he put in grave danger while bringing Akim in.

A shocking admission turns the entire Stillwater narrative on its head

Unfortunately, the good times surrounding Allison's release from prison don't last very long. That's because, in the course of Bill holding Akim hostage, the killer offered his captor an alternate account of how Allison's lover died, claiming he'd actually been contracted to kill the woman by Allison herself. The capper of Akim's tale comes when he claims Allison paid him for the deed with a gold necklace fit with a charm that said Stillwater. Unsettled by that information, Bill still manages to shrug off the tale, a fact made all the easier when the DNA evidence he obtained proves Akim indeed did the killing.

Happy enough he was able to get his daughter out of the slammer, Bill chooses not to let the matter of the necklace lay as it was a gift he'd given Allison years earlier. After returning to Oklahoma as heroes, Bill eventually broaches the subject of the necklace to Allison herself, at which point she breaks down and admits that everything Akim told him was true, and that, even as Lina's death was not part of the deal, she had indeed had a direct hand in her lover's murder.

A solemn promise ensures a deep, dark secret will stay just that

That shocking revelation puts Bill in a moral quandary far stickier than merely indulging in vigilante justice on foreign soil. And whatever you make of his actions in France, it's made clear from the get-go Bill firmly believed everything he did was done on the side of virtue. Learning the opposite to be true, Bill is clearly shaken to the core. And knowing his sense of justice is complicated, to say the least, it's immediately unclear how he'll handle the unfiltered truth of his daughter's betrayal.

In the end, Bill (in a marvelously internalized moment from Matt Damon) seems to conclude Allison's teary-eyed confession (and the inescapable guilt behind it) are enough of a punishment for the girl. As such, he makes a solemn promise that he'll never betray her secret to anyone. Of course, that secret being kept is hardly a certainty as the film ends with Akim still on the loose. And, oh boy, father and daughter had better hope beyond hope that Akim doesn't turn in Allison's still-missing Stillwater necklace while serving up with his own version of events. So goes the morally murky human drama that is "Stillwater."