Rust and Bone

Great character acting, dreadful characters.

Released in 2012, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 05 Dec 2012 by Scott Morris
Rust and Bone image

Stéphanie (Marion Cotillard) trains killer whales, although apparently she's skipped step one in the process. Always train killer whales not to chew your legs off. Basics, people, basics. She is punished for this schoolboy error by having her legs chewn off by a killer whale. Yes, "chewn" is a perfectly cromulent word.

Stumpy, understandably upset by this turn of events, enters a depressive cycle that's only broken when she takes the unusual, some would say inexplicable, step of reaching out and calling a vague acquaintance, Alain (Matthias Schoenaerts). While she meets Alain as a bouncer, driving her home after she's assaulted at a nightclub, we've known him for a little longer.

The audience first meets Alain, well, more or less, as he's stealing a camera. Sure, it's to sell to feed his son, but hardly endearing. He's on his way across country to eventually stay with his sister, whereupon he settles in for a good stretch of completely ignoring his son's needs and wants.

Despite Alain hardly being shown as a model of compassion, he starts helping Stéphanie deal with her new situation, and in a largely separate development, becomes a fighter in France's apparently burgeoning illegal backyard tournaments. The bulk of the film concerns Stéphanie and Alain's developing relationship, and how their actions change the personalities and dispositions of each other, so I'll skip over any details. However, I rather get the impression that this is hoping to say more about the human condition than I'm able to glean from it.

It's great that Stéphanie manages to find value in her life again, but perhaps unfortunate that so much of it is based around the attention of a total asshole. Alain's unpleasant, but not in the ways I imagine the character was supposed to be regarded. I'm assuming that we're supposed to see Alain as a complicated, realistic human character, with a mixture of good and bad, with a lot of the film's value coming from watching the good begin to outweigh the bad as the relationship with Stéphanie develops.

Unfortunately the initial reel does such a good job of setting Alain up as a lying, stealing, child-neglecting jackass that I'm not particularly inclined to care about his redemption or otherwise. I can see, in a rather detached way, that if you had some interest in his character then the final reel could be quite effecting, but long before that point I'd grew tired of his antics and was thinking about funny videos of cats instead.

If we remove my distaste for one of the central characters from the equation, there's really not much that Rust and Bone does wrong. Perhaps the occasional drop out into overly-stylistic framing, with particular over-use of the "shot into the sun, lens flare everywhere" motif, but at least that contributes to a strong and consistent visual style.

The acting is impeccable, at least as far as I can gather without actually speaking French, and shows great raw emotion. The direction shows consideration on the movies' pace and overall is very assured, even when dealing with sudden shifts in the kind of content that ordinarily wouldn't happen in the genre, such as, say, the illegal bare-knuckle boxing.

Nonetheless, despite all of the positives around it, and the absence of negatives, it's a film that just bounced off me. I wonder if that's saying more about me than the film.

Jacques Audiard
Cast list:
Marion Cotillard (Stéphanie)
Matthias Schoenaerts (Alain van Versch)