The main characters of "Rust and Bone," played by Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts, have names, but they might as well go by the title's featured elements. They're both broken and beaten people, their wounds â€“ both emotional and physical â€“ covered with gritty, tough calluses. Yet somehow, beneath all that hurt and pain, they find a way to feel, love and survive.
French director Jacques Audiard presents a hard, rough tale, beautifully shot and guided by two captivating lead performances, but there's something missing. For all of its seemingly natural and realistic grit, a strenuously heavy hand for drama pulls "Rust and Bone" down. It's less of a serious movie than a movie that wants to be serious. I don't want to use the dreaded p-word, but it's unfortunately the one that fits best: pretentious.
Schoenaerts (from last year's "Bullhead") plays Ali, a wannabe kickboxer suddenly put in charge of his young son (Armand Verdure). Ali has almost no money for himself, much less for a child, so the two move in with his estranged sister Anna (Corinne Masiero) while Ali attempts to find a job in between trips to the gym and quick one-night stands.
He eventually wrangles a job as a bouncer at a popular nightclub, where he meets StÃ©phanie (Golden Globe nominee Marion Cotillard), a killer whale trainer at a French SeaWorld. He's graceless and awkward. She's bloody and bruised after a fight at the club. Things don't go far, and the two don't appear too intent on seeing each other again.
That is, until StÃ©phanie suffers a terrible accident at SeaWorld that leaves her without both of her legs. In her loneliness, she gives Ali a call, and the two form a vaguely sweet relationship from their broken selves â€“ complicated by Ali's immaturity and responsibilities.
Audiard's last movie, the gritty prison drama "A Prophet," won itself an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film with its intense performances and authentic story with a few ethereal touches thrown in for art's sake. "Rust and Bone" plays much the same way, for better and for worse.
The French writer-director captures some beautiful shots â€“ orcas slowly flying through the water, a bloody tooth skittering and spinning across the pavement â€“ but he struggles to integrate them into his story. StÃ©phanie's big accident, a gorgeous but messy blur of images, suffers from emphasizing art over coherence. He has a similar problem with his soundtrack, with Bon Iver and strangely Katy Perry often intruding on the action. "A Prophet" sometimes had the same problem, but maybe I just like Turner Cody's "Corner of My Room" more than "Firework."
Where "Rust and Bone" really shows its wear, however, is in the story. Its source material is a collection of short stories by Craig Davidson, and as adapted by Audiard and his "A Prophet" co-writer Thomas Bidegain, it feels like it. The screenplay attempts to cover several relationships and story elements over its two-hour running time, and the emotion gets lost in the process. Ali's son disappears for large portions of the film, so when the movie turns its focus toward their bond, the audience's connection just isn't there.
It doesn't help that most of the material is so steeped in heavy seriousness that it pangs more of indie importance rather than a natural story of wounded people struggling to heal.
Luckily, most of the film's focus is on the relationship between Cotillard and Schoenaerts, and they don't hit a false note. Cotillard is mesmerizing, finding the wounded, bitter and raw humanity left inside StÃ©phanie after her horrid accident. The audience really feels like it is witnessing a woman heal before its eyes. Schoenaerts is her equal. Ali can be selfish and caring â€“ sometimes in the same moment â€“ not realizing how important he is to the people around him. It's a hard role, played with crucial sympathy.
Together, the two make "Rust and Bone" work. Even when the story feels off, Cotillard and Schoenaerts are on, making their complicated relationship come off the screen. Sometimes they're sweet. Other times, they're tragic.
But they're always fascinating to watch, and when Audiard's visual ideas bind with their performances â€“ Cotillard's beautiful return to the orcas, Schoenaerts's harrowing ice skating trip with his son â€“ you get a glimpse of a great movie. Those glimpses, however, can be exhausting to find through all the important drama â€“ with important written in all caps.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Matt Mueller
Published Sept. 3, 2015
Every year, I think that there's no way the Milwaukee Film Festival can put together another lineup as strong as the year before, and every year, I'm proven wrong. 2015 is no different. Here are 10 of the movies I'm most looking forward to once the end of the month comes around.
Published Sept. 2, 2015
"The Room" is a not bad movie. Bad movies are nothing special to Hollywood; one comes out pretty much every weekend. No, "The Room" is more like an unholy miracle of awful filmmaking, a movie that fails so incredibly hard it becomes an almighty success in the process. The new cult classic is coming to the Oriental Theatre this weekend, so we asked its creator Tommy Wiseau a few questions. And no, not "So anyway, how's your sex life?"
Published Aug. 31, 2015
The former Goldmann's Department Store is in the process of becoming the new home to the Gerald L. Ignace Indian Health Center. As a part of the renovation process, however, its iconic sign was taken down. After spending some time for sale in the construction lot, the popular Milwaukee and Mitchell Street landmark has found a new home. But, not in Milwaukee.
Published Aug. 27, 2015
Growing up, the Bay View-based toy maker Peggy Brown has plenty of memories of the classic board game Operation - and her family didn't even own it. Decades later, Brown - along with her friend and fellow toy maker Tim Walsh - are trying to give something back to the man whose legendarily buzz-worthy game gave them so many fun times and fond memories over the years with the documentary "Buzz Heard 'Round the World."
Published Aug. 27, 2015
Considering its reputation as Milwaukee's haunted bar, Shaker's Cigar Bar, located at 422 S. 2nd St., certainly knows a thing or two about old stories coming to life. After giving plenty of historical tours through the years and guiding eager guests to some of the city's ghosts, bar owner Bob Weiss and marketing director Amanda Morden are hoping they've found a new way to resurrect some of Milwaukee's old tales of yore: Hangman Radio.
Published Aug. 26, 2015
Now, with their Internet comedy series "Shangri-L.A.," Milwaukee-grown filmmakers Drew Rosas and Nick Sommer ("Billy Club," "Pester") are the latest to go in search of the worldly utopia. Well, kind of, as the search for dreams brings them to the very real city of Los Angeles - and to Kickstarter to help finish the 11 episode production.
Published Aug. 25, 2015
Yes, the Packers will probably be just fine without Jordy Nelson, who's done for the year with a significant right knee injury. But sometimes, you just need to grieve ... with a collection of Dubsmashes from Olivia Munn and Aaron Rodgers from before the injury that eerily fit this time of great sadness.
Published Aug. 23, 2015
If you're planning on riffing off of one of Hollywood's greatest director's greatest movies, you better know what you're doing. Luckily, the man behind "Phoenix" is the extremely talented German director Christian Petzold, who smartly takes a touch of Hitchcock and twists it into an impressive project all of his own, a brilliantly crafted modern post-war noir carefully cloaked in mystery that slowly but satisfyingly burns to a quiet fireworks display of a finale.
Published Aug. 22, 2015
The jazzy retro style of Guy Ritchie's "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." is slinky fun, but enjoy it while you can because, like a toddler, if you take your eyes off it for a second to grab your drink or glance at your watch or merely blink, it is gone, a whooshing little breeze where it once used to be on screen and in your mind. The projector might as well be one of those neuralizers from "Men in Black."
Published Aug. 19, 2015
Dieter Sturm may not be a household name, but for about 30 years, his work has been all over some of your favorite Hollywood movies. Yes, fitting for a Wisconsinite, Sturm's business is snow, and when a Hollywood production needs to call in anything from a flurry to a blizzard, Sturm and his Lake Geneva-based company Sturm Special Effects bring the storm.