Stellar performances by Matthias Schoenaerts and Marion Cotillard makes Rust and Bone a delightful watch, especially since the story by Craig Davidson dwells on the darker parts of people's lives, plagued by the lack of responsibility, or the resignation towards one's fate from an accident. It deals with the despair and hope from the strangest of sources, from strangers who become friends and then more. Perhaps the last act offered a glimmer of hope and reprieve for the leading characters, but to get there, we bear witness to the kind of rut they find themselves stuck in, that the only way to go from there would be up.
Rust and Bone is essentially two separate arcs dealing with the issues faced by its two leading characters, before converging them together when they reach out, becoming the crutch in each other's lives, and while this story has been told many times, director Jacques Audiard had two wonderfully crafted characters to work with, and delivered by pitch perfect performances. It's nothing to scoff at in terms of its drama, allowing the characters to grow on you as they overcome various obstacles in their lives.
Matthias Schoenaerts plays Alain, a single dad who almost had to beg relatives for a small abode to call home, while he works the odd jobs that included one that would bite him back later on. He's not much of a father as well, perhaps due to circumstances, that his kid is almost always looked after by someone else. Extra income to keep him alive, ironically, comes from beating up, or getting beaten up, in underground fight matches which puts his brawn to good use. But before you condemn him as someone who cannot get his act together, Davidson's story showed a more compassionate side to him, with his stellar and assured assistance rendered toward Stephanie, although it could be argued it came with perks.
Stephanie by Marion Cotillard is the larger story here, about a woman who lost both her legs in a killer whale incident that should have been routine since she's one of a few trainers dedicated to the mammals in their Sea World type facility. Stephanie has this extremely beautiful sequence where she stands outside the tank, and communicates with one of them through trained hand-signals, which is probably the sequence that piqued my interest in the film. But it is more than that, where Cotillard's performance wins you over and draws you deep into the plight of someone who has to forever be reliant on others for mobility, at least until prosthetics are ready. The friendship developed with Alain becomes the essence of the story, especially when juggled between one that's platonic, physical, a combination of both, and more.
I have to admit though I became somewhat of a voyeur, each time we have Stephanie in the scene, because I would be wondering just how the filmmakers managed to craft scenes that realistically removed Cotillard's legs. I know CG has advanced, but it would be one heck of a job since there were that many in the movie, and I can imagine just how meticulous scene design could be, either to creatively frame it, or physically have Cotillard tuck them in.
In honesty I would have loved to like the film a little bit more, but I can't seem to scratch beneath its surface. Sure it's about life, love, friendship and the likes, but oddly something seemed to be missing, that would really hammer some of these emotions in deeply. Powerhouse performances yes, but to touch the heart sincerely to allow empathy with the characters, probably not.