It has two absolutely terrific performances, and I continue to be highly impressed by the talents of Belgium’s Matthias Schoenaerts. Unfortunately, it’s just not a very good film. There are some interesting scenarios presented that are never quite fully explored(sex with an amputee being one of them), and shameless, button-pushing manipulation throughout. It’s certainly never dull, and Schoenaerts gives his second astonishingly physical 2012 performance(after the Oscar-nominated “Bullhead”), but it consistently takes the easy way out. Of course, Marion Cotillard is beautiful and perfect(as always), but even she can’t overcome this hokey nonsense. It’s a shame, because I was so taken with director Jacques Audiard’s “The Beat That My Heart Skipped” in 2005, and he also scored with “The Prophet” in 2010. His wonderful and gorgeous leads almost manage to save him this time—but it’s not quite enough.
Ali(Mr. Schoenaerts)is a barely, employed 30ish man toting his young son throughout southern France trying to make ends meet. He seems to finally be reaching some fruition, however, upon moving in with his estranged sister, and taking jobs as a security guard and also a bouncer at a club. It’s there one night that he meets Stephanie(Ms. Cotillard), who works as a killer whale trainer at a local marine park. Fast forward to Ali, who has a passion for kick-boxing, as he starts raking in extra cash in illegal street fights. Meanwhile, Stephanie loses the lower portion of both her legs after an accident on the job involving one of the whales. The casual relationship of Stephanie and Ali grows a bit stronger as this unlikely pair attempt to redeem their fractured lives. As Stephanie learns to walk again with artificial limbs, Ali struggles to learn to be a good father—despite ample evidence that that particular goal may be just outside of his grasp.
First up, the name of the fighter played by Mr. Schoenaerts. Ali? Really? I mean, c’mon. And then just when the script seems to be completely out-of-steam, it turns to the ever-reliable option of child peril—a really cheap move. And for all its frank focus on the sexual relationship of Ali and Stephanie, how about some bravery and poise when dealing with this decidedly vaguely explored reality of people who are intimate after tragically losing limbs? Too much is left on the table in this respect—the film is melodramatic to a fault and the writing is just plain lazy. The fact that the screenplay is based on a short story collection by a Canadian author who admitted to going on a steroid cycle before giving-it-a-go as a boxer explains quite a bit. For now, I’ll continue to wait for the Matthias Schoenaerts project that properly showcases his visceral gifts. And I’ll keep on lusting after Marion Cottilard in just about anything she does. But “Rust and Bone” is an example where a bit more complexity would have gone a long way. Grade: C+