Directed by: Jacques Audiard.
Written by: Jacques Audiard and Thomas Bidegain based on the story by Craig Davidson.
Starring: Marion Cotillard (Stéphanie), Matthias Schoenaerts (Alain van Versch), Armand Verdure (Sam), Céline Sallette (Louise), Corinne Masiero (Anna), Bouli Lanners (Martial), Jean-Michel Correia (Richard), Mourad Frarema (Foued), Yannick Choirat (Simon).
Jacques Audiard’s Rust and Bone is a melodrama about two damaged people, who help save each other. It’s a somewhat odd choice for Audiard as a follow-up to his masterpiece A Prophet, which is one of the best crime dramas/prison movies ever made. This film is a more standard issue melodrama – one that tries, and succeeds, in trying to make the audience feel sympathy for its two main characters. While the film is nowhere near as good as A Prophet was – it is still a fascinating, heartfelt little film – and contains two excellent lead performances.
The first character we meet is Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts), who for reasons the movie never fully explains, no has custody of his five year old son Sam that he barely knows. He travels to live with his sister Anna (Corrine Masiero) and her husband that he hasn’t seen in years. They don’t have much, but welcome Ali and Sam into their home. Ali has no discernible skills – he used to box and Thai box – but he doesn’t much do that anymore. He gets work as a bouncer – and later as a security guard, and working for a security consultant, who specializes in placing illegal cameras in business, that allow the bosses to monitor their employees. It is while he is a bouncer that he meets Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) at a club. She gets hit, and he takes her home – and although she has a boyfriend, he gives her his number anyway.
Stephanie is a whale trainer at park that looks like Marin World to me. We see her during one of her performances – set to Katy Perry’s Fireworks – as she and the other trainers direct the whale what to do. What starts as a fun episode, begins to take on an ominous tone – we know something is about to happen, well before it does. What happens is a horrific accident that takes both of Stephanie’s legs above the knee. Wherever her boyfriend goes, it’s clear he is not sticking around. Her friends and family feel awkward around her – and soon with no one left to turn to, she calls Ali. Surprisingly, Ali treats her like a normal person – which is precisely what she needs. Ali is no saint – we see him cruelly lashing out at his son, and eventually, he’ll get into the world of underground fighting. Both of these people are hurting, and need each other, or else they may just spiral downwards to a point of no return.
The reason to see the movie is the two excellent lead performances. Schoenaerts role will probably remind viewers of his role in Bullhead – an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film Last Year – where he played a man with a secret, who feels grossly inadequate, and overcompensates for their inadequacy by building his muscles. That was a great performance, in a movie that tried to needlessly add complexity with an absurd plot. Ali is a similar character – although more vocal than his character in Bullhead, both men feel inadequate, and try to mask their inner pain with the outer shell they show the world. Both men are angry and prone to violence – Ali has just found a way to release that anger in a (marginally) more acceptable way. If Bullhead announces a major new acting talent, than Rust and Bone confirms it. And Cotillard is Schoenaerts equal in every way in this movie. She plays a similar role in some ways – a woman who likes to be desired by men, who used to love when men stared at her, and fantasized about her, but now has to deal with the fact that everyone sees her differently now – not as an object to lust after, but a woman to be pitied. Through Ali, she gets back out into the world – is able to start seeing herself differently than before. She also learns though that Ali may not be someone you want to count on. This is a very internal performance by Cotillard – she doesn’t explode, like many actors would giving what her character goes through, but simply tries to bury it down deep inside herself. It’s some of the best work she has ever done.
I’m not quite sure I buy the ending of the movie. The Craig Davidson short story that was used as a jumping off point for this story had a much darker ending than this – and it seemed more appropriate to the story. And yet, emotionally anyway, I prefer this ending. I may not quite believe it – but I want to.