December 7, 2012


Jacques Audiard doesn’t do sentimental. His last film, A Prophet, had the clear-eyed view of crime and the dramatic heft of a French version of “The Wire,” and his new and very different drama RUST & BONE benefits as well from his refusal to take the road of easy emotion.

Lord knows, the bare storyline of this film could have provided enough material for a Lifetime movie and a half. Based on short stories by the American writer Craig Davidson, RUST & BONE is ultimately about two terribly injured, imperfect people groping toward a relationship. And by “injured,” I don’t (just) mean emotionally. Marion Cotillard plays Stephanie, who works with whales at a Sea World-like theme park. Some time after a brief and not entirely comfortable encounter with Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts), a bouncer at a club where she gets into an altercation, Stephanie suffers a horrifying accident on the job that results in the loss of her legs. (The extensive green-screen technology that enables Cotillard to play this part is seamless, and far beyond the days of Lt. Dan in Forrest Gump.) Stephanie almost gives up on life, but not quite, and not wanting to see anyone she used to know, she calls Ali for help.

He, meanwhile, is grinding through a life raising his 5-year old son as a single father, but sometimes worse than irresponsibly. His hope of breaking out of his rut is through underground MMA fighting. He and Stephanie have little common ground, but they each bring out what’s good in the other.

The tentative steps the couple take, with as many reversals as advances, are beautifully performed by the actors, and with Cotillard’s character having an Academy-friendly disability, she may well be part of the year’s Oscar conversation, and Schoenaerts proves to be a worthy match. Audiard often avoids showing some of the key moments each of them face, making the viewer fill in the gaps after seeing only the aftermath. It’s a canny strategy that steers the film away from the obvious.

As in A Prophet, Audiard’s craft is superb. The editing is subtle and often far more stark than you’d expect, and Audiard has a wonderful skill with soundtrack songs, here making great use of Bruce Springsteen’s “State Trooper” and believe it or not, Katy Perry’s “Firework”.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."