Thursday, 14 March 2013

Whale of a time…Rust And Bone

Whale of a time…

Fresh from wowing audiences at Cannes and winning Best Film at this year’s London Film Festival, A Prophet director Jacques Audiard’s latest film, Rust And Bone, is a curiously unsatisfying mash-up of the sublime short stories of Canadian author Craig Davidson.  Liberally adapting and colliding Davidson’s Rocket Ride and the titular Rust And Bone, Audiard has fashioned a ramshackle, episodic romance which hits just more than it misses.

Homeless, down-on-his-luck fighter Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) migrates from Belgium to the Cote D’Azur with his estranged young son where he sets up home in his sister’s garage and soon finds work as a bouncer in a local club.  Breaking up a fight one night he meets the mercurial Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) and gives her his number.  When Stephanie, a killer whale trainer at the local Marineland, is left a double leg amputee after a tragic accident, she finds herself turning to Ali for support.  The two are drawn to each other, form a tentative friendship, Ali reawakening in Stephanie an appetite and appreciation of life, forcing her to come to terms with her disabilities.  She in turn comes to manage him in the underground bare-knuckle bouts he fights.  But when sex and the possibility of real love threaten are either of these damaged individuals ready for it?

Melodramatic, obvious and sentimental, Rust And Bone, like it’s predecessor, the vastly over-rated A Prophet, is curiously uninvolving despite being punctuated by moments of poetic beauty and featuring a magnetic performance from Matthias Schoenaerts as the almost Neanderthal streetfighter Ali and a possible career best from Cotillard as the beautiful, brittle, wounded Stephanie.  The scene where, after her first post-accident sexual encounter, a reinvigorated but wheelchair-bound Stephanie goes through her former Marineland dance routine alone on a rooftop accompanied by Katy Perry’s Firework is fantastic; a beautiful, life-affirming, joyous moment.  But it’s also a bit cheesy, a bit heavy-handed.  And there lies one of the film’s most glaring problems; like Ali, it lumbers when it should dance, an emotional juggernaut determined to make you feel.   

The script by Audiard and Thomas Bidegain lacks the subtlety of Davidson’s writing, it’s bruised humanity, it’s melancholy, it’s steel.  Often compared to Chuck Palahniuk, Davidson writes about lives lived on the margins of society, his often brutal stories populated by broken boxers, dog fighters, sex addicts, gamblers, drunks, bad parents, injured children.  He tells tales of love, of loss, of regret, of wasted lives and missed opportunities, of the siren song of self-destruction.  His characters aren’t always likable but they’re sympathetic and real.  By comparison, despite the committed performances of Cotillard and Schoenaerts, Audiard and Bidegain’s characters feel a little shallow, a little surface.  They lack the depth of their literary counterparts.  Cotillard’s Stephanie may have had her legs bitten off by a whale but the film seems to suggest none of her problems are so bad they can’t be sorted out by a damn good seeing to.  Ali may be a violent thug and a shitty father but all he needs to straighten up is a near-tragic accident and an impossible shot at the title.  They don’t convince as people and so their romance never really rings true.  It’s a sentimental, melodramatic exercise in predictability.  The film feels contrived, aimless, unfocused.

Audiard’s Rust And Bone never truly explores, or even addresses, the fascinating allure of violence, the doomy inevitability of self-destruction or the masochistic desire for punishment that permeates Davidson’s writing.  There’s a couple of perfunctory, scrappy, bare-knuckle bouts in car parks but no real sense of anything being at stake; these are not the life or death contests, the human cockfights, they should be but are more like a Friday night punch-up down the kebab shop with even less at risk.  The short story’s ending has been drastically reimagined to provide a manipulative, feel-good, redemptive climax to the film, one full of hope, that feels tacked on and worst of all, like a betrayal of the characters.

Flabby and disappointing, Rust And Bone underwhelms when it should overpower.

David Watson

Directed by:
Written by:
Jacques Audiard and Thomas Bidegain, based on short stories by Craig Davidson
Produced by:
Drama, Mystery
2 hours 3 minutes
UK Release Date:
Friday 2nd November

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