Review: Rust and Bone
The characters in Rust and Bone, the latest film from Jacques Audiard (A Prophet) truly are down to the bone -- they border on primal at times. Add powerhouse leads like Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts and you get an intense experience that's so vivid it's hard to look away, but often so painful it's hard to keep watching. I kept watching, and Rust and Bone ended up being one of my favorite films of 2012.
The movie focuses first on a father and his son: Ali (Schoenaerts) travels with five-year-old Sam to Antibes, a coastal French town, to live with Ali's sister and her husband. Ali finds work as a bouncer and ends up taking Stephanie (Cotillard) back to her home after she's been attacked in the nightclub. Slowly, the movie expands its focus to include Stephanie, who trains killer whales fearlessly in a Sea World-type setting.
But Ali and Stephanie don't really cross paths again until after Stephanie's life has been turned upside-down. Their intense and strange relationship, including the ways it affects Ali's son, is the heart of Rust and Bone.
Ali is essentially an animal. He acts on instinct, expresses his feelings physically and rarely thinks things through or plans. It's clear from the very first scene on the bus, when he scavenges food that other passengers leave behind, to feed himself and Sam. His affection for Sam is rough and tumble, protective and fierce but easily shifting into anger or impatience. Ali has no filters or hesitations: he wants to swim, he swims, no matter what else is going on at the time. He wants to fight, he fights, bare-knucked. He wants to fuck, he fucks (which accurately describes what he does sexually.)
If Ali is the embodiment of human-as-animal, Stephanie is of course the animal trainer. That sounds like an overly simple distillation of what is a far more complicated movie. Stephanie is battling her own demons, and just when you think she's hard as nails, she shows herself to be even tougher, although not without her own vulnerabilities.
Schoenaerts and Cotillard are nothing short of riveting together. I honestly had no idea where their relationship would go, although some of the movie's plot points were telegraphed a little too strongly with ominous foreshadowing. It doesn't matter. The characters overtake the story. The ending flails a bit but the two leads never flag.
Forget about comic-book movies and Peter Jackson -- Rust and Bone has the best use of special effects in recent memory. The movie uses special effects for one specific purpose that is utterly believable, to the point where I have no idea how it was done. And it's all in the service of a character-driven story, in a beautifully written script by Audiard and Thomas Bidegain, adapted from a story by Craig Davidson. Rust and Bone is occasionally violent and bloody, and not an easy movie to watch, but I can't recommend it enough.