The deadbeat dad storyline is a familiar one in cinema but it has never been done with a combination of killer whales, Katy Perry music and mixed martial arts (MMA) before. If it sounds a little overloaded, that’s because it is, but there is a touching story of fatherhood and family at the core of Rust and Bone. A former boxer turned security guard, Alain (Matthias Schoenaerts) is adjusting to life as a full time parent after removing his son (Armand Verdure) from his mother’s care. Father and son settle in Antibes on the coast of France where Alain meets a killer whale trainer, Stephanie (Marion Cotillard). When Stephanie is involved in a horrible accident at work, her relationship with Alain intensifies as he assists her during the recovery.
Alain and Stephanie are both intriguing characters experiencing different levels of physical and mental pain. This is carefully explored by writer/director, Jacques Audiard and co-writer, Thomas Bidegain. Both characters share a common ground in sorrow but are almost polar opposites. Alain is experiencing repressed emotional pain that’s aggravated by the challenges of being a father and accepting the responsibility. Stephanie endures physical pain due to the injuries sustained from her accident. Despite any sympathy that comes from each character’s situation Audiard and Bidegain never turn it into a pity party. Alain is selfish and chooses sex with complete strangers over picking his son up from school while Stephanie has a hidden rage that results in nightclub brawls. These flaws humanise the characters and are the barriers they must overcome to find peace above the anguish in their lives.
Schoenaerts and Cotillard hold their own when they are apart but are superb together. The two actors genuinely interact with each other as soul mates. The scenes between Schoenaerts and the young Verdure are potent, especially when Audiard manages to get quite genuine reactions from the child actor.
There are a few subplots involving Alain’s work as a security guard that leads a shady employee surveillance worker who is involved in backyard MMA fights that’s could be an entirely separate film in itself. The MMA chain of events progresses the story a little but muddles it in the process and it becomes a little too repetitive. There is an interesting contrast between the fighters and Stephanie, who witnesses the extreme physical harm the fighters endure willingly; something that Stephanie had thrust on her as a cruel twist of fate. Regardless of the minor detour the final 30 minutes is strong and delivers gasp worthy moments.
For a film that deals in different forms of agony, Rust and Bone is rather pleasant. The portrait of family that Audiard paints is refreshing with the right emotional punch.
[rating=3] and a half
Cameron Williams - follow Cam on Twitter here: @popcornjunkies