Jacques Audiard (The Beat My Heart Skipped, A Prophet) hits another home run with his latest work, a very different tale adapted from Canadian writer Craig Davidson’s short stories, depicting the unlikely connection formed between Stéphanie (Marion Cotillard), an Orca trainer who loses her legs in a catastrophic work accident, and Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts), an impulsive, somewhat clueless father to a young son, eking a living as best he can as a security guard.
The two are drawn to one another following a previous nightclub incident in which Ali assisted Stéphanie, and later, a lonely phone call she makes to Ali, asking if he heard about her accident. The two gravitate in the most unconventional of ways, with Stéphanie harnessing Ali’s aggression and brashness for better means, while Ali slowly teases out Stéphanie’s lost confidence and sex appeal with his simple charm and physical prowess. Beginning as a tender friendship of two lost souls, it’s little surprise that the two – in the most amusingly nonchalant fashion – explore each other sexually, with Audiard depicting the intimate moments of an amputee with admirable sensitivity. This isn’t for the mere sake of shock or exploitation, though; it all fuses to a later payoff, of course, that the two slowly develop something for one another.
Though Cotillard runs away with a difficult role, and Schoenaerts – who impressed with a similar turn in last year’s Oscar-nominated Bullhead – is a revelation, it’s important not to forget one of the film’s other key features. The use of visual effects to realistically depict Stéphanie’s condition is nothing short of staggering, convincing in every facet, and if Academy voters are inclined to look outside the box – chiefly beyond Summer blockbusters – then this spare use, which carries massive emotional gravity with it, should be in the conversation.
What could have been a familiar story – and in no way is – ends up treated with the expected directorial skill from Audiard, beautifully staging scenes whether they’re in a luminescent nightclub or a dimly-lit apartment, and girding on the fabulous performances, working from a sensitive, mature script. Though perhaps one sub-plot could have been chopped – in which Ali unintentionally sabotages his sister’s own job – Rust and Bone unquestionably has a firm grasp on its characters, their emotional states, and the baby steps to enlightenment they make throughout.
A winning marriage of mind-boggling visual effects, excellent performances, and sumptuous direction, Rust and Bone is an emotional, richly rewarding drama.
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