Movie review—Rust and Bone
– by Elana Shepert
Boldly melodramatic, Rust and Bone investigates a story that is anything but romantic, yet is crushingly sentimental.
The latest movie from director Jacques Audiard (A Prophet, The Beat That My Heart Skipped), Rust and Bone stars Marion Cotillard (most recently seen on North American movie screens in The Dark Knight Rises) as Stephanie, a marine biologist whose passion for life dissolves after she loses both legs in a tragic accident.
Desperate, she calls Ali, a bouncer and underground fighter played by Matthias Schoenearts, best known for his Oscar-nominated performance as a boxer in Bullhead (2011), whom she’s met only once. Hustling to make ends meet for his young son, he has little time for anyone, and he lacks any measure of empathy for her situation.
Taunting us to cringe and squirm, Rust and Bone dissects the lives of these two broken spirits. The result is gripping, disturbing and ultimately satisfying. Cotillard’s portrayal of childlike-wonder and profound grief intimately connects us to Stephanie, who is forced to rediscover everything after the accident, including herself. Likewise, with the build of an ox and a penetrating stare, Schoenearts commands rage with flair.
While the acting is great, there are numerous holes in the plot. Feeling her amputated limbs for the first time, Stephanie’s horror is difficult to behold, and her pain feels very real. What feels less conceivable, however, is her lack of company. For someone who worked at a popular aquarium alongside many colleagues, all fully aware of the tragedy, she seems rather destitute. She also had a live-in boyfriend prior to the ordeal, and he never makes an appearance. Other than dutiful visits from a close friend, she’s completely alone, and no one really appears to care for her.
While the lack of support makes little sense, it makes her sullen phone call to Ali seem less far-fetched, but only somewhat. When they originally met, he pulled her out of a bar fight, which she instigated, and then drove her car home. They spoke for a bit, but nothing particularly significant happened. We don’t fully understand why she calls him, but her apparent isolation allows for some room in this logic. What really doesn’t add up, however, is why he responds back. So far, he’s a deadbeat dad, an awful brother, and a chauvinist with little interest in relationships of any kind. So, why does he make an exception for a woman he hardly knows?
While answers to these questions are never revealed, they are easily forgotten, as the characters themselves are so engrossing. Stephanie’s journey through emotional purgatory draws us in, and Ali’s unsavory companionship keeps us at her side, praying for her salvation.