The plotline of Rust and Bone, the latest film from acclaimed French filmmaker Jacques Audiard (A Prophet), sounds a little strange at first: a street boxer falls for an orca trainer who has her legs bitten-off by the aquatic mammal. And yet that sharp distinction between backgrounds is part of what Audiard seems interested in exploring, that is, the capacity and needs of the heart of two people forged by dramatically different life circumstances and brought together for unlikely reasons.
Getting these two together does feel a bit awkward at first. Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) moves with his son to his sister?s house where he struggles to get back on his feet. He meets Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) at a club where he has found work as a bouncer. He drives her home after the firy woman gets into an altercation, and even though she is involved in a relationship, they exchange phone numbers. When Stephanie wakes in her hospital bed after the incident at her Sea World-like job, she begins an excruciating decent into depression and isolation. Estranged from her former life, she inexplicably reaches out to the bouncer Ali.
What follows is an unexpected evolution, as Ali begins to fight in street boxing matches arranged by his employer at a security company, and Stephanie, although initially reluctant, is drawn into (even attracted by) this brutal underworld. In the background, a murky social drama unfolds as Ali, his son, and sister are entangled in a subplot involving unethical workplace practices, abuse, and economic hardship that tugs at the budding ? of strained ? romance that slowly builds between the two central characters.
Rust and Bone can all feel a little haphazard at times, but what keeps it together are the exquisite performances by both Schoenaerts and Cotillard which help render an unlikely moving and nuanced love story. As with Schoenaerts? last film, Bullhead, much of the dynamic at play is reliant on his ability to couch authentic, palpable frailty into a hulking physical form that feels always on the brink of explosion. It?s that strength and physicality that Stephanie needs, and like Beauty and the Beast, the question becomes drawing out the sense of love that remains confined behind Ali?s hard-shell exterior. But in order to release that, Rust and Bone?needs one more unexpected ? and?unforgettable?- ?plot twist.