Rust and Bone

Rust & BonePhotobucketAli is a penniless man with his five-year-old son Sam to take care of. While crashing at his sister’s place, he gets a job as a bouncer at a local nightclub, relying on his abilities as a former street fighter. Stéphanie is a woman who works as a killer whale trainer at a marine mammal amusement park. They meet at the club where he works after she is attacked in a bar brawl. Nothing of consequence occurs between the two. He leaves his number and they part ways. Then, following a tragic accident that leaves her disfigured, she calls up the derelict man out of the blue and the two enter into a relationship of sorts.

On the surface Rust and Bone is an uplifting drama detailing the triumph of the spirit, but that horribly clichéd phrase doesn’t even come close to doing this movie justice. It’s raw, sexual and completely without pity, much like our male protagonist Ali. Impoverished and nomadic, he is a brute force that inexplicably meshes with the more emotional and financially secure Stéphanie. Although both have imperfect lives that need fixing, she would appear to have little in common with Ali. But at this very low point in her existence she reaches out to him and his response gives her renewed faith and a will to live.

At the heart of Rust and Bone are two really powerful performances from Marion Cotillard and Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts. The nature of their relationship is akin to something Tennessee Williams might write about. Marion Cotillard tries to subvert her beauty to embody the grit behind a woman who has all but given up on life. She’s incredible, we’ve come to expect that from her at this juncture in her career . What’s surprising is relative newcomer Schoenaerts who matches her for intensity. He garnered indie praise as the star of Bullhead which was the Belgian nominee for best foreign film in 2011. That picture raised his profile, but this should be an even bigger breakthrough. He’s charismatic in a way that has people already inviting comparisons to actors like Tom Hardy or Jason Statham. The story is equally focused on him, actually more so, and his shocking lack of sympathy, but undiminished desire, is reassuring to her.

Jacques Audiard, who was responsible for 2009’s much lauded A Prophet, wisely knows when to have his stars minimize theatrics and let the moment speak for itself. One of my favorite scenes is indicative of the attitude of the film. In one particularly brutal bare knuckle fight, Ali is badly beaten on the ground, face bloodied from being hammered. Sitting on the sidelines, Stéphanie watches helpless from the car. As he’s being pummeled, his eyes catch the sight of her stepping out from the protection of the van. One anticipates her to come barreling from the parked vehicle, hysterical and sobbing uncontrollably. You foresee Stéphanie throwing herself over the combatants in order to stop the bout. But she does none of these things. The lower half of her legs are in view as they step forward out of the car. She walks calmly toward the two men, and then stands, like an inspiration to her man. Galvanized by her presences, he is inspired to summon what little strength he has left to fight back.

Rust and Bone is the most unsentimental sentimental picture I saw this year. It’s also the most romantically unromantic. It’s a tale of contrasts and it’s those contradictions that make the chronicle so unpredictable. It’s a narrative that is not easily categorized because its outlook is rather unconventional. It subverts the conventions of a traditional (read Hollywood) romance at every turn. Theirs is not a typical love story. However it emphasizes the need to be loved and the physical passion that goes along with that love. As the melodrama begins to pile up near the end, one setback after another almost – almost! – threatens to derail a saga shaded in nuance. Thankfully, that doesn’t happen. This remains a thoroughly engaging portrait of two disparate people who oddly need each other.

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21 Responses to “Rust and Bone”

  1. Now THIS sounds like something I will love. Great review!

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  2. Great review Mark. This ones on my cards.

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  3. Good review Mark. Not my favorite of the year, but definitely a good flick that shows Cotillard at her finest. She’s rich, raw, and beautiful, and sometimes, all at the same time.

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  4. Nice review. Although, it wasn’t my favorite film either, Cotillard was outstanding.

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  5. I wasn’t sure what to comment after reading your review. Then I saw I comment you’d left in response to someone else:

    “She’s remarkably consistent, but I’d have to say this is probably my favorite performance from her. Yes, even better than La vie en rose.”

    Yeah, I think I really NEED to see this one.

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  6. This movie was so much more than I expected. It really focused on two characters. Two characters that really needed each other for different reasons. Both performances were incredible. I really felt an emotional connection to who they were. 4 stars.

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    • Marion Cotillard has gotten all the notices and acclaim but Matthias Schoenaerts is equally good. He may not get a nomination out of this, but he most certainly will get a career…in Hollywood.

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  7. “Rust and Bone is the most unsentimental sentimental picture I saw this year. It’s also the most romantically unromantic.”

    Exactly. Perfectly put.

    As you know, I loved this film and it’s currently my top pick for the year. Very powerful and featuring great performances. That scene you highlighted is one of my favorites.

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  8. Glad you liked it 😀 Shame Cotillard got snubbed 😦

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  9. “The most unsentimental sentimental picture I saw this year. It’s also the most romantically unromantic…”

    My friend, that is just brilliant. And so true. Great review here. This was my favorite film of the year. It worked for me on oh so many levels.

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    • The Intouchables didn’t even get a nomination for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars. I wonder whether Rust and Bone would have garnered a nomination if France had submitted this movie instead. I am so glad this touched you as well. 2 weeks later and I am still thinking about it.

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  10. I was asked about this movie shortly after seeing it, only way I could easily explain it was as a romantic comedy… without the romance.
    Both of the leads are great in their performances, both in the good and bad aspects of their characters. One of the best of 2012.

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