MOVIE REVIEW: Rust and Bone



Foreign films can sometimes be a mixed bag, but when Academy Award winner Marion Cotillard is involved, people should take notice.  You can give her all the crap in the world this year for the worst death scene ever in The Dark Knight Rises, but when given material to sink her teeth into, she's one of the best actresses in the world.  If you rolled your eyes at her in July's comic book blockbuster, you'll be happy to see her back in stride with Rust and Bone, a challenging French drama from director Jacques Audiard (A Prophet) that competed for the Palme d'Orr at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. 

There are two central characters to Rust and Bone.  Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts plays Ali, a mid-20's unemployed single father.  He and his five-year-old son Sam (Armand Verdure) have hitchhiked their way to Antibes, France on the southern coast in search of work and a steady place to stay with his generous, but disapproving sister (Corrine Masiero).  Ali is a former boxer and kickboxer who stays in practice while getting a job as a bouncer at a high-end nightclub.  In breaking up a bar fight, he meets Stephanie (Cotillard) and offers to take her home.  The well-off Stephanie initially dismisses the lesser Ali judging her, but is struck by his honest care for her.  He leaves her his number and leaves like a gentleman. 

Stephanie is one of the lead orca trainers at the local waterpark.  After a failed stunt leads to a tragic freak accident during one of the killer whale routines, Stephanie wakes up in the hospital with both of her legs amputated at the knee.  Crushed by the loss, she retreats into severe depression while transitioning to a lifestyle in wheelchair at a different home.  When she looks Ali up, he answers the call and comes to see her.  Slowly, they begin building a strong friendship and minor romance.  Stephanie continues to improve from Ali's pitiless encouragement and Stephanie supports Ali in return as he begins bare-knuckle prize fighting for money.

The journey for both characters throughout Rust and Bone is carries a certain dichotomy for these two opposites.  The struggling and poor Ali is trying to better his life and his son's by risking severe injury as a fighter and earning acclaim he never had.  Conversely, Stephanie is seeking individual improvement from a severe injury to get back to the lifestyle and acclaim she used to have.  Both come at it from different places, but find their truest selves when with each other.  They are each the other's goal and encouragement.  The question becomes at what cost can they improve each other and where do the boundaries end.

Marion Cotillard's Oscar-worthy performance will be the reason people flock to seek out Rust and Bone, and rightfully so.  She's already been nominated for a Golden Globe and Screen Actor's Guild Award for this film and she deserves it.  I know movie magic with smart costume tricks, props, and effects make it look like she's without her legs, but it takes skill to pull off that look convincingly.  Her performance is more about the full scope of emotions she invests into the role more than the loss of limbs.  While Cotillard is getting all of the attention, I have to give equal props to Schoenaerts.  He's the true lead and he too has a physically and emotionally demanding role as a struggling father and fighter.  Matthias performs in admirably and with the same rawness and power as Cotillard.

There's more rapport than chemistry in the Ali-Stephanie relationship in Rust and Bone, but two characters with the self-defense mechanisms they have aren't the type to dance in the street or break into song.  It's an appropriate tough love for this story and the bleak and depressing places it reaches.  While it's hard to fall head over heels for a movie this challenging, I respect the effort and talent involved.  Once again, if you can handle subtitles and a challenge, something that is not for everyone, Rust and Bone is worthy of your attention.

LESSON #1: THE LONG ROAD OF PHYSICAL RECOVERY-- Without a doubt, we are witnessing a difficult, painful, and traumatic physical recovery from Stephanie's character.  I can't imagine the challenge, but there's a certain beauty to the small physical victories that come to people who find the drive to not let physical handicaps keep them from normalcy.  A perfect example of a little victory comes when she swims for the first time again, thanks to Ali's help.  More soon to follow.  

LESSON #2: THE LONG ROAD OF SPIRITUAL RECOVERY-- At the same time that a person heals physically from a traumatic loss or experience, the same recovery must be made from an emotional or spiritual standpoint.  Initially, Stephanie's will and confidence are completely broken.  As much as the small physical accomplishments add up, so do the boosts of esteem and morale that cure one's soul.  There's a beautiful scene where Stephanie encounters one of the orcas again after her injury that nearly drops your jaw with beauty.

LESSON #3: WHEN PITY IS REQUIRED AND WHEN IT IS NOT-- Ali's role in making Lessons #1 and #2 happen for Stephanie is with his ardent support of never taking pity on her.  While plenty of people around her play the constant "I'm so sorry for you" card, she quickly appreciates and respects that Ali does the opposite in letting her accomplish what is needed by herself and her own volition.  He answers her calls, involves her in his life, protects her, and takes an active role, but keeps his guard up that she must still be the first one to take care of herself.