Movie Review ~ Rust and Bone (De rouille et d’os)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Put in charge of his young son, Ali leaves Belgium for Antibes to live with his sister and her husband as a family. Ali’s bond with Stephanie, a killer whale trainer, grows deeper after Stephanie suffers a horrible accident.

Stars: Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenarts, Bouli Lanners, Celine Sallette, Corinne Masiero, Armand Verdure

Director: Jacques Audiard

Rated: R

Running Length: 120 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  When Marion Cotillard won her much deserved Best Actress Oscar in 2008 for La vie en rose, her main competition was Julie Christie in Away From Her.  Christie was the favorite to win going into the evening with Cotillard a mini-upset – this was fine with me as I had long felt that Christie was more of a supporting actress to her co-star Gordon Pinsent who was the real star of the show.  The same thing has happened with Rust and Bone.  All the love is going toward Cotillard without mentioning the other half of the equation — Matthias Schoenarts.

There’s no doubt that the work Cotillard does in Rust and Bone is praise-worthy.  As Stéphanie, a whale trainer at a Sea World-esque amusement park in France, she has to learn how to move on and cope when a horrific accident forever changes her life.  Cotillard lays herself bare literally and figuratively, getting to the troubled heart at the center of this woman.  She avoids the cinematic stumbling block of becoming bitter…but rather plays her as simply broken.

On the other side of the coin, Schoenarts has just as much of a challenge playing Ali, a man moving through life in any way that pleases him.  He steals, he takes his family for granted, and he doesn’t have much of a moral compass when it comes to ethics or relationships.  This is a man that makes choices that have serious consequences, no matter if the choice was accidental or on purpose.

Though it’s acted with a fierce passion, my main problem with the script was that it never seemed to justify why things were happening to these people they way they were.  Everything about the film seem contrived to move the characters to a pre-destined spot without any real motivation – so you’re left feeling as manipulated as the actors on screen.

For example, Stéphanie and Ali meet when he is a bouncer at a nightclub.  She is involved in a fight that leaves her bloodied so he drives her home…I guess his shift was over.  On the way back he insults her but she still lets him come up to meet her live in boyfriend in an awkwardly constructed scene.  Later, after Stéphanie has her accident, she calls Ali out of the blue to meet up.  Why after all this time would she call him to seek out his company?  I get that he maybe made enough of an impression on her to keep him fresh in her mind but it still was a transition that was more for the benefit of the story than the characters.

Director Audiard also contributed to the script that was adapted from two short stories by Canadian writer Craig Davidson and he has trouble juggling a lot of thin subplots that never feel fully resolved.  There are numerous characters and situations that are introduced only to be forgotten and never touched upon again.  Ali has a five year old son he was recently put in charge of but we don’t even hear why this happened.  For a while, it looks like the father-son plot might take center stage but it quickly veers into a plot about Ali’s involvement with illegal surveillance of employees at local businesses.  That is also jettisoned for Ali’s side job of brutal street fighting for cash that he lets Stéphanie come along and watch.

If you notice above, many of the plot strands involve Ali which is why I’m still amazed that Schoenarts isn’t mentioned as a worthy award nominee along with Cotillard.  Like Cotillard, Schoenarts leaves it all on the field for us without ever sacrificing the brute man that he clearly is.  Neither character is one that changes their tune without suffering for it…but Schoenarts seems to work his angle better.

All signs point to Cotillard receiving a Best Actress nomination for her performance and at the end of the day that is OK.  She’s had a solid year between this and The Dark Knight Rises (she filmed both films at the same time!) and she’s one of the most interesting actresses working today.  I hope we see more from Schoenarts as well because he’s the true north of the picture…unwavering and bold.

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