By Don Simpson | December 28, 2012
Director: Jacques Audiard
Writers: Jacques Audiard (screenplay), Thomas Bidegain (screenplay), Craig Davidson (story)
Starring: Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenaerts, Armand Verdure, Celine Salette, Corinne Masiero, Bouli Lanners, Jean-Michel Correia
Synopsis or trailers be damned, all I knew about Rust and Bone before entering the theater was that I like writer-director Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet (2009); I adore Marion Cotillard in every film I have seen her in; and I was curious if Matthias Schoenaerts could portray a character other than a fighter with an intimidating physique (ala Bullhead). And, as it turns out, I am glad that I went into the screening completely blind, because I would have never put myself through such an emotionally draining experience if I knew what was to come. So, I am going to avoid too much discussion of any major plot points in the hopes that you will choose to experience Rust and Bone the same way.
Of course, this means that I have to tap dance my way around the two most emotionally harrowing scenes. You see, Rust and Bone is like riding a white-knuckle rollercoaster for the very first time. One scene strikes totally out of nowhere, leaving the unsuspecting viewer to free fall in paralyzing awe. The other scene is set up with careful precision as the narrative takes a slow redeeming crawl upwards with the allusion that Audiard will never let us drop so fast and so hard. In both cases, Audiard does not just tug at our heartstrings, he snaps them in half — and it hurts even worse than it sounds.
Stéphanie (Marion Cotillard) and Alain (Matthias Schoenaerts) are incredibly complex characters who perpetually teeter on the line between likable and detestable. They are two unlikely lovers who discover a certain kinship in naively sacrificing their bodies in order to maintain some sense of financial security. They make poor choices, often acting out of pure, unbridled selfishness; but both Cotillard and Schoenaerts are able to reveal fleeting glimmers of innocence and goodness buried somewhere within their characters’ core. It is these astonishing performances by Cotillard and Schoenaerts that allow us to endure the emotional torture of Rust and Bone. So, while we walk away from the film feeling like we had just lost a street fight with Schoenaerts, our first thought is destined to be: “Cotillard and Schoenaerts give two of the best performances of 2012.” We also might be impressed by the natural use of CGI.
Of course, now we must address the elephant in the room — my earlier comment about wanting to see Schoenaerts portray a character other than a fighter with an intimidating physique. Sure, Schoenaerts is given a lot more dramatic range than he was allowed in Bullhead, but Alain is still all-too-similar to Bullhead‘s Jacky. Of course, in both films, Schoenaerts offers much more than just his Belgian muscles. That said — while Alain and Jacky may seem to be very comfortable characters for Schoenaerts, the longer he prolongs his destiny of becoming a Hollywood action hero, the better.