Rust and Bone is one of those movies that tell the story of two wounded people who find each other. She trains killer whales at the aquarium and performs shows with them. He is an amateur boxer who is a single father without any money, forced to move in with his estranged sister. He takes a job as a bouncer in the bar and one night a woman is punched in the face - it is Stephanie. He offers to drive her to house, on the way there being rude to her, saying that she is dressed like a slut. They get to her house, where her boyfriend argues with her in front of him, after which he leaves, having left his phone number.
Some time after that Stephanie suffers a terrible accident, when the platform at the aquarium collapses - the result is the loss of both of her legs. Helpless and vulnerable, she calls Ali and invites him over. That is how their peculiar relationship begins, as gradually Stephanie learns how to live her life after the terrible loss and Ali becomes more human and aware of other people's feelings. Well, a little bit more human, but still not good enough for me.
The film is very uneven - the direction is very good but it is the script that is the main problem of the movie. Had the film focused on Stephanie, it could have been something really wonderful, unfortunately we switch back and forth between Stephanie's story and Ali's scenes. And it's the latter that is a major problem - Ali is not only a despicable character, his scenes are all over the place. He doesn't really have a single redeeming quality - he is selfish, he beats his young son and avoids spending time with him and he shows no gratitude to anyone that helps him.
In addition, several things already established in the film keep coming up again for no reason at all - we already know Ali is self centered and steals, yet there is a whole plot involving him stealing things from where his sister works which results in him being kicked out of his sister's place. If that is something the writer wanted to happen, a better and much more understandable and not time consuming plot point would be to have that happen permanently after his sister witnesses him beating up his son.
While it is through Ali that Stephanie eventually finds strength and the reason to live, it's not really a thing that made me care for him. He doesn't really help her in the sense that he sees this woman and wants to make her feel better. He spends time with her because she calls him and he has nothing better to do. You would think that the man would want to find a better job and spend time with his son, but no, he just hangs with Stephanie, swimming in the ocean.
But for me the lowest of low was when after Stephanie helped him when he was boxing and they went to the bar with his friends. He is there with this woman, obviously everyone thinks she is his girlfriend, including her and then he just walks away with some floozy. He is completely oblivious and clueless of how wrong it is - one can argue that he doesn't even see Stephanie's disability - to be completely honest I do not know anyone who would let an amputee swim in the ocean, without even knowing if it's safe yet he just puts her n the water. On the other hand there are some positives to him treating Stephanie like any other woman in his life, she doesn't feel like an outcast because of him - but let's get it straight - he treats women like objects who mean absolutely nothing to him.
Stephanie was a very admirable character and if the film just focused on her and ended differently it could have been amazing. Instead I was actually very depressed about its "happy ending". Stephanie is obviously a strong person - she has her issues, as everyone, but she has this confidence and strength inside her. She is proud and why shouldn't see be - she is smart, tough and beautiful. After the loss of her legs she obviously becomes depressed and although her connection to Ali helps her, the fact she ended up with him made me feel as if she just settled for it - she has a new job, she has someone in her life but that someone is a selfish person and no amount of beautiful cinematography in the ending will convince me that he is changed and responsible now.
The truth is that Stephanie from before the accident would never want to spent her life with this low life who doesn't even respect her as his girlfriend and he is - quite simply - too daft to even wonder if he respects her as a human being. Yet after she becomes disabled, it is as if she thought nothing better will ever happen to her. That is very depressing. It is obvious in the movie that Stephanie has people in her life who care for her and while they may look at her with occasional pity - something Ali never does - I doubt they would leave her alone in the bar or throw their kid on the table so he hits his head.
Had the film ended with them just being friends that would be great, because apparently Stephanie needs rough Ali in her life to push her when she feels sorry for her. But why make this strong woman into this man's girlfriend and turn it into love story? That was a big problem for me with this film. Also many times I was extremely confused by the characters doing what they are doing - there is some charm in feeling as an observer to only certain events in characters' lives but most of the time I was extremely puzzled about what was happening. Both Ali and Stephanie repeatedly act as if they care more or less about each other than it was previously established. In one moment they did something that would suggest they have no feelings for each other, in other they acted as if there was love between them. I couldn't buy the way the emotional connection worked in this movie at all.
Maybe it's all because I found Stephanie to be admirable character and Ali just a guy who really doesn't deserve much. The last part of the movie where the film focused on Ali was where the film literally collapsed on itself and it was as if some magical entity gave Ali the pass - something that would be extremely rare to happen in real life. He does something extremely stupid and irresponsible again and there are some tears and fear but ultimately he pays no price for his enormous mistake. He learns nothing and then we get the "happy" ending where his son and Stephanie adore him. Ridiculous.
It's almost as if they were forcing to make this movie into a romance for some strange reason. I'd much rather we saw more about Stephanie's feelings towards the fact she can no longer do what she loves. There are two beautiful scenes in the movie that show that despite her accident (to be completely honest I'm still not sure whether her legs were smashed or bitten of by the whales - when she is in hospital there is this freaky scene with killer whales focusing on their teeth) she still loves these animals - she practices the gestures on the balcony and then she goes to aquarium and when she gestures, the whale reacts. Now she can no longer train the animals and she is Ali's boxing promoter. Something she clearly enjoys doing but it's not her dream choice.
What saves the movie is beautiful cinematography and very good direction. I also have to say that the CGI is amazing - Marion Cotillard really looks as if her legs were amputated and there is no usual trickery involved, when the characters without limbs are shot from strange angles - the movie never hides her disability and she looks incredibly realistic. There are also a very nice bits of foreshadowing here - for example when Ali is driving Stephanie home, she has a bit of blood on her knee. This is before her accident where she loses her legs in exactly this place.
In addition, there are several truly amazing scenes here but not even the beauty of them makes you forget about how much of a mess the film ultimately is. However, it is definitely worth seeing for the performances - despite me loathing the character of Ali, Matthias Schoenaerts does a very good job portraying him, but it's Marion Cotillard who steals the show as Stephanie in what may be her finest performance to date - it's hard for me to fully appreciate her work in La Vie on Rose when the film is so chaotic. Her Stephanie is this amazing person who loses a part of herself both physically and mentally but after a little encouragement, which she is not too proud to reject, she finds the will to live, even though the bitter truth is that she will never be completely the same.
Those two do an amazing job conveying the variety of emotions without uttering a single word - there is this amazing moment in the movie, where Ali is losing the fight but Stephanie gets out of the car and he sees her prosthetic legs and the fierce expression on her face that gives him the strength to win. He sees this incredible woman, who has been through so much and was able to find the will and the courage to go on and win her life back. At least to some extent. Both of those performances - Cotillard's especially - deserved much better movie. The film failed to move me, but Stephanie's story really interested me and I found her recovery to be very inspirational, regardless of the movie's ending. I know many out there found the film to beautiful and powerful, I would not use these to adjectives to described it, though. It is definitely worth seeing for Marion Cotillard's amazing work which is bound to make you forget (well, almost) about her last scene from The Dark Knight Rises.
De rouille et d'os (120 min, 2012)
Director: Jacques Audiard
Writers: Jacques Audiard (screenplay), Thomas Bidegain (screenplay)
Stars: Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenaerts and Armand VerdureRELATED POSTS: