Although "Stillwater" mostly takes place in France, McCarthy believes it's largely about how the United States is changing and how other countries see that, another topic where his French collaborators helped.
"They were watching how America was behaving, from Paris," McCarthy said. "I felt like this was my foothold. I am fascinated by it. I'm outraged. I'm empathetic. All of it. So, let's try to embody this in a character and story that will probably in some way resonate with audiences."
The writers read a lot about America's changing place in the world, but McCarthy said the key was figuring out Bill, who has been described as a Trump supporter (in the film, he says he didn't vote) and who McCarthy hopes audiences will understand as a man trying to support his family the best he can.
Language was a big part of creating empathy for Bill. Often, the movie shows what it's like to try to accomplish something in a country you don't understand. The movie uses subtitles occasionally but, when Bill doesn't know what's going on — in a phone call a French friend makes for him, for instance — neither do we.
"My editor was like, 'We need to make sure the audience knows what's in this call.' And I was like, 'Why? I've been in countries where I don't understand the culture and language. I've had that feeling of being lost,' " McCarthy said. "I love those reveals, those intimate little land mines that get a little deeper into the characters."
Eventually, of course, the screenwriters needed an ending for "Stillwater."
"We got to a point where we had to really lay out the crime, moment by moment," said McCarthy, who thinks the movie arrives at a place that "feels right, thematically and story-wise. In the end, I don't think the movie answers all of our questions. I don't think good movies should."
In other words, true to form, the final scenes of "Stillwater" were more of a discovery than a foregone conclusion.
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