Marion Cotillard‘s two key performances this year, in The Dark Knight Rises and now Rust and Bone, could not be more different. In TDKR she played a side-lined, generic love interest for our hero who barely managed to be interesting even with a late reveal. She also gave us one of the most over the top, ridiculous, comedy deaths of all time that almost tainted the otherwise fantastic end to the film. With Rust and Bone Cotillard redeems herself and reminds us why she is an Oscar winning actress. She plays a whale trainer who is involved in an accident that sees her lose her legs. After the accident she forms a relationship with Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) a hulking single dad and security guard who moonlights as a bare-knuckle boxer. Schoenaerts impressed in Bullhead and is similarly charismatic and watchable in this, even if the characters are fairly similar. Neither Cotillard’s nor Schoenaerts’ characters are particularly likeable or sympathetic but they are strangely relatable because of this. They act in a truthful and realistic way considering the circumstances and both performances are wonderfully judged and understood. This is Schoenaerts’ film really, his character’s story making up the bulk of the plot and having most scenes. Both actors give brilliant, real and engaging performances. The thing I liked most about the film is that it is technically a romance but played out very credibly. Both characters are flawed and emotionally confused in a true to life way.
The film is based upon two separate short stories that director Jacques Audiard (A Prophet) has fused together to create his film. Because of this the film feels a little messy. It’s almost episodic; with events and set pieces happening one after another with no major bearing on the characters or plot. The main problem I had with the film is that it doesn’t seem to have a through line; there is no central idea, message or point. Apart from Cotillard’s accident and Schoenaerts becoming a bare-knuckle boxer (both of which happen fairly early on in the film) no characters have an arc or journey to speak of. It just seems to be things happening one after another until it ends. I was also expecting this to be much more emotionally draining and depressing than it turned out to be. Some may see this as a good thing but I like to emotionally engage with characters and plots and this film just washed over me. There is a quite unexpected and shocking scene at the end involving Schoenaerts’ son that at first seems to be a major event and turning point but ends up just being another pointless set piece put in to extend the films running time and reunite out characters. It has to be noted that this film also features one of the most badly misjudged and disconcerting soundtracks ever. Katy Perry, The B-52s and John Cooper Clarke feature at points throughout. For a serious, melancholic, French film about a paraplegic and a bare-knuckle boxer these are strange and confusing choices. Katy Perry also features twice which makes it twice as bad.
I enjoyed Rust and Bone while I was watching it. It was entertaining and engaging but as soon as it ended I wondered what the point was. I pondered whether I had wasted my time. However, this film is worth watching for the central performances alone, both of whom (but particularly Schoenaerts) deserve to be more famous and highly regarded than they are.