The problem here is in the writing, which is all over the place in terms of its narrative, its characters and its authenticity.
Rust and Bone
In what will more than likely go down as the biggest disappointment of the year in film for me, Jacques Audiard’s Rust and Bone isn’t something that I would label as bad but I certainly couldn’t call it very good either. After three straight works of brilliance, this is definitely a step back for him as a filmmaker, though more than anything else that’s due to his screenplay (he co-wrote again with Thomas Bidegain, his collaborator on A Prophet). There isn’t much to fault here when it comes to Audiard’s direction; Rust and Bone is a visceral punch to the gut at times, and there’s a palpable physicality in the lives of these two characters which he is able to capture with a strength that few others would be able to succeed at on this level.
No, the problem here is in the writing, which is all over the place in terms of its narrative, its characters and its authenticity. Rust and Bone centers on the relationship between the brutish Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) and the recently crippled Stephanie (Marion Cotillard), the two coming together early on after a horrific accident that leaves her without her legs. Whenever the film is focusing on the relationship between these two, it is absolutely on point. The contrast between the incredibly physical presence of Ali and the emotional struggles that Stephanie faces when her physicality is taken away from her is poignant, and both actors deliver phenomenal performances.
Schoenaerts, who exploded onto the scene with his powerful work in Bullhead, has an immediately intimidating approach that makes you fear him but he fuses this character with so much heart that it’s hard not to root for him, even when he’s making mistakes when it comes to his career or parenting his young son. Cotillard provides the perfect contrast, matching that physical, internal approach with a devastating rawness that is absolutely heartbreaking. Audiard manages his leads well and has two actors who deliver in every moment, shining individually but even brighter when they are able to share the screen. It’s when the two are split up that the script begins to fall apart, with subplots that don’t add much of anything, thin supporting characters and glaring narrative contrivances.
Even with the extensive 155-minute running time of the much more subtle A Prophet, Audiard created a pace that move it along so well that it never dragged for a moment, but running at a brisker 120-minute duration this one feels like it runs at least an hour longer. Rust and Bone ratchets the drama up to a level that is strangely aggressive for Audiard, hitting the audience far too loud at times without ever achieving the kind of emotional strength that Read My Lips or The Beat That My Heart Skipped were able to. For the first time, Audiard lets the melodrama control his picture more, presenting it in a way that embraces that as opposed to presenting the more gritty, authentic approach that he has shown such skill within.
This becomes especially troublesome in the film’s final act, where the contrivances are taken to an eye-rolling extreme that actively works against that raw emotional anguish Cotillard and Schoenaerts bring to their roles. Rust and Bone probably has a little more going for it than it does against, but with Audiard’s magnificent track record going into it, the inconsistencies in the writing are surprising and very disappointing. The two leads deliver incredible work, but this is a prime example of how much a bad script can impact an overall picture.