Mark Reviews Movies

Rust and Bone


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Jacques Audiard

Cast: Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenaerts, Armand Verdue, Corinne Masiero, Céline Sallette, Bouli Lanners, Jean-Michel Correia, Mourad Frarema, Yannick Choirat

MPAA Rating: R (for strong sexual content, brief graphic nudity, some violence and language)

Running Time: 2:00

Release Date: 11/23/12 (limited); 12/21/12 (wider)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | December 21, 2012

Rust and Bone concerns the relationship between a wholly unsympathetic man and a woman whose strange attachment to him does not garner much sympathy for her, either. To a certain degree, it's a point of accomplishment that co-writer/director Jacques Audiard manages to keep us concentrated on the characters' personal flaws and increasingly poor decisions, considering how completely ludicrous the movie's central premise is and how seemingly incongruous that setup is to a serious discussion of the characters at its behest if one takes a small step back to observe the movie's story at face value.

Audiard and Thomas Bidegain's screenplay (based on a pair of short stories by Craig Davidson) tells two stories, each given the short shrift, about two broken people—one psychologically then physically, the other physically then psychologically—who connect out of necessity. The woman does not allow anyone else into her life out of fear of being pitied for a debilitating injury; the man's aggressive and cold nature and sometimes violent behavior ensures that anyone who might want to get close to him will only end up hurt in the end. If they share a common trait, it's the misplaced and untenable pride of two people on the edge of collapse.

The movie opens with Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) and his 5-year-old son Sam (Armand Verdure) walking and hitchhiking south through France toward the coast. The father has to steal to keep his son fed, and our first glimpse that he might not be the most responsible parents comes after he steals a camera from a store, rushes out the door, and leaves his son, puzzled by his father's actions and trying to see where he's gone, on the sidewalk.

Ali's parenting skills only get worse when they arrive at his sister Anna's (Corinne Masiero) home. He basically leaves his sister to watch him, and the few times he is responsible, Ali is consistently late to pick his son up from school, ignores him outright, and borders on abuse—until the time he throws the boy into a table. During a job interview, his prospective employer asks Ali why he thinks he should have the job; he replies, "Trust me," and spends the rest of the movie showing why no one ever should.

Ali gets work doing private security—first at a night club. There, he meets Stéphanie (Marion Cotillard), a free spirit who goes to the club to dance and attract the attention of men in whom she has no interest. She simply likes to tease them a little. It gets out of hand this night, and Ali has to stop a man from hitting her. After bringing her home, where her jealous boyfriend tries to confront the stranger (Stéphanie ends the relationship after Ali leaves), Ali gives her his phone number.

Stéphanie works a local marine animal theme park, where she trains orcas. During the orca show, one of the whales lands on the stage, and it collapses. It's unclear how it happens (whether it's from the accident itself or if there is any significance to a close-up of a whale's mouth in the dreamy haze that follows), but Stéphanie loses both of her legs—amputated between her knees and thighs. She is devastated and lives alone in a state of depression in her apartment, neglecting to clean the place or herself. On a whim, she calls Ali, who has started helping a shady character named Martial (Bouli Lanners) install illegal security cameras in stores. In return, Martial gives his accomplice a shot at an underground kickboxing group for some additional cash.

The ensuing relationship between Ali and Stéphanie is odd, to say the least. It starts with honesty and even some tenderness, which only makes the later turns more unconvincing. Ali helps Stéphanie regain her lost confidence, subtly coercing her to leave her apartment and swim. It takes a left turn when she insists on coming along to watch his first fight. Whatever compassion he might have displayed in their early scenes—a trait we actually start to question in retrospect, given all that follows—is now replaced with raw physicality. They start a casual sexual relationship—at least, considering that he's a serial womanizer, on his part—and complications lead Stéphanie to become his fight manager, even getting tattoos that say "right" and "left" on her legs. As the movie moves forward, Stéphanie becomes an inconsistent character, flailing to the whims of the plot (Cotillard is strong enough here to keep us distracted for a while), while Ali remains an unrepentant man and eventually becomes despicable one.

As unbelievable as their descent to rock bottom is, the story's abrupt, last-ditch switch to unearned redemption is perhaps the strangest development of all. Rust and Bone provides some insight in its quieter, introspective moments (There's a scene of mutual understanding between Stéphanie and an orca, and while that sounds silly, it's something of a relief compared to so much else here); its frequently peculiar moments rarely move beyond that.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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