Film Review – Rust and Bone
Jacques Audiard’s Rust and Bone is frustrating, with half-backed ideas and unrealized concepts. As with many of Audiard’s films, we start with someone who is on the outs from society: former fighter Alain (Matthias Schoenaerts). He is poor, and, for unexplained reasons, stuck with his five-year-old son Sam, whose mother is not around. Deciding to move in with his sister, Alain gets work as a bouncer and a security guard. While breaking up a fight, he meets Stéphanie (Marion Cotillard), a whale trainer, and gives her a ride home. After unsuccessfully flirting with her, he leaves his number and leaves. Stéphanie goes to work the next day and, during a stunt gone wrong, ends up losing both her legs. This puts her in a dark place, and one day she impulsively calls Alain, and they start to hang out.
Alain and Stéphanie form a bond of some kind. We get little detail beyond that she is desperate for anyone to be around, especially someone who didn’t know her that well before the accident, and that he is just easygoing with women, considering how easy it is for him to pick them up. Alain is actually quite good with Stéphanie, by being blunt and forcing her to do things, simply because he doesn’t let her lack of mobility get in the way. They develop together at a pace that fits them, with Alain’s blasé response to sex and Stéphanie’s hang-up about her legs.
If this was the main focus of the film, these two as a couple could have brought some insight into two damaged souls. They have a good connection based on where they are in their lives, and while it is quick, seeing them build as a couple works. Yet the film cannot decide what it wants to be about. Several other threads are thrown at us: Alain dealing with his son and not totally knowing how to be a father; Alain deciding to take up street fighting as a way to make extra money, and Stéphanie getting involved it that; Alain’s side career of spying on workers for management; Alain arguing with his sister about his son and way of life. And so on and so on.
Sounds like a lot? It is, and what makes it worse is that the plot threads are so underdeveloped that when anything happens in these situations, it never has any impact; events go by with no weight to them. What makes this worse is how long some of this takes. In an at least ten-minute sequence before Alain and his son get to his sister’s, we see them out and about trying to get by with little money. This would be fine, but that is all the sequence does: it shows he is poor without adding anything else, and that point was made in about a minute. This leads to the film committing the cardinal sin of being boring, with several moments where I felt myself falling out of it. The breaking point is the ending; without giving it away, Audiard gives up trying to provide an actual emotional or realistic reason for the characters to be together and instead wraps everything up in a neat package, with the most predictable emotionally manipulative reason for everything to just be okay by the end, even though nothing is really resolved.
It is frustrating knowing that these are talented individuals in these roles. Marion Cotillard is an actress who, even if it is a bad film, usually does something that elevates the material. Besides some of her dark moments right after the accident and an intense conversation with Alain about his habits, we get little from her character. Matthias Schoenaerts was the same way. While he had some interesting emotional moments, his character was always too all over the place to give him a chance to seem real from scene to scene.
One wonders what Audiard was trying for here. With so many different ideas going on, it is hard to even tell what kind of insight into his characters he wanted to get across. If there had been a central storyline to go with, perhaps the other ideas could have gelled better. But as is, this is just a meandering mess.
Final Grade: C