I've heard, "It's better to wear out than to rust out", and I've heard, "Wear to the bone", but I haven't quite heard of "Rust and Bone", though I'd imagine such a statement leans more toward "Wear to the bone", because, woah boy, the debris sure went down to the bone when it hit poor ol' Marion Cotillard, thanks to that stupid whale. I curse you, Michael Madsen, for freeing Willy, but hey, for a pretty French girl, Marion Cotillard didn't have best legs in the business, so I guess it's not the biggest loss, and if you think that I'm careless enough about Cotillard's Stéphanie character's situation to say something that crude, you should see Matthias Schoenaerts' character in this film, because he doesn't care about anything. I figured the tragedy that Schoenaerts' character from "Bullhead" faced would be devestating enough for Schoenaerts to demand that it be put in his contract that he has to play sympathetic characters, seeing as how he knew that no audience member would ever again take him seriously as a cold dude, rather than with humility toward the suffering, but he sure can fight for a guy who got his testicles crushed by a bull, so I guess he's doing alright. Well, in all fairness, his fighting character in this film is named Ali, and considering that that is also name of pretty much one of the greatest fist fighters ever, I'd imagine it gives you quite a bit of power in the ring, and if you think that that's a stretch, then you should actually look at this film's story concept, which is so strange that it may as well feature an aspect revolving around names' holding their own power. Okay, maybe this film's subject matter isn't quite that far out there, but we're talking about the dramatic and romantic tale of a deadbeat father who is a bare-knuckle fighter and finds genuine affection for a whale trainer with no legs, so that could mean that this film is either made for Lifetime or just weird enough to be French. Well, at least I think that's what's going on in this film, because, I must admit that my French is a bit "rusty", as sure as this film's atmosphere will occasionally get "bone" dry. Terrible puns aside, as decent as this film is, it's not without its share of slow spells, nor is it without certain other aspects that need more oil to them, much like...- well, you get the point.
This is a layered drama, but one that follows only two leads, both of whom share a direct connection that is essentially this film's core plot, so I was hardly expecting focus issues going into this film, yet lo and behold, this film's full focus is all but all over the place, spending too much time with one of our two leads until the other is forgotten, largely because Matthias Schoenaerts' Ali character's side of this film's story is rich with subplots that recieve quite a bit of focus, but ultimately prove to be unnecessary. The bridges between the two sides of this film's story don't stretch for, as Roger Daltrey would put it, "miles and miles and miles", but the two focuses that carry this film are distanced just enough to throw you off with focal unevenness, which isn't to say that consistency rests only within this film's focus structure, because pacing is hardly all that smooth, or at least atmospherically. Jacques Audiard's atmosphere isn't all over to place, as the film never really picks up all that much momentum, but there are plenty of points in which the film drags its feet in a more traditionally slow fashion, when there aren't points in which the film really dries up, with quietness and considerable thinness that bland things up something fierce. Needless to say, this film's pacing gets to be at its most problematic when the film just says, "Forget it", and strays away from a traditional narrative style to go into all-out artistic meditativeness, powered with overdrawn sequences of pure nothingness. The moments in which this film slips into this kind of problematic storytelling style are very much few and far between, but they do still stand, being particular heights in story structure dragging that can indeed be found throughout this film, padding out the final product with excess material and repetition, and emphasizing thin spells in story concept just enough to render storytelling somewhat aimless. At a relatively mere two hours, this film well outstays its welcome, and sure, just that can be said about Jacques Audiard's previous, much better film, "A Prophet", but the thing about this film is that there's not quite as much intricate juice to this film's story as the story within "A Prophet", being much more driven by minimalist dramatic depth that could have made for a very good film, yet just ends up undercut by focal and pacing issues, as well as even areas of under-exposition that even things out and cut this film down to its seemingly reasonable runtime, which is, in the long run, too sloppily handled for this film product to be what it could have been. Much really tears at this promising project, though it's not like the final product is ultimately left standing as nothing more than just "rust and bone"... whatever that means, because for every misstep, this film turns in a strength that is considerable enough to sustain your investment, or at least turns in a decent score piece for every bad soundtrack supplement choice.
When Jacques Audiard actually kicks on some tunes, he tends to use mainstream music just as, if not more often than score work, and seeing as how "A Prophet" held a hit-or-miss soundtrack, I expected this film to have a passable song for every hiccup, but what I ended up with was a soundtrack that was anything but hit-or-miss, but instead consistently really bad, to where what may very well be the only song that is extracted from, at the earliest, the '80s is, of all things, "Love Shack" by The B-52's (Yeah, more like the BM-52's), so it's not like this film's musical aspects are all that commendable, but when it comes to original music, courtesy of the great and stupidly busy Alexandre Desplat (Jeez people, give this guy a break), the film delivers, though not quite as much as they say, as Desplat's efforts feel rather underused, and really aren't all that upstanding to begin with, like they got to be in "A Prophet", but still impress with their dynamicity and elegant marriage of classical and modernist sensibilities. The film has its high points when it comes to music, and they're all the works of Desplat, while Stéphane Fontaine gives this film its visual high points, which are also pretty few and far between, and never really reach too high, but are nevertheless commendable in their delivering on striking lighting and fairly pronounced color plays. Visually, the film really isn't as upstanding as I was expecting it would be, being all too often rather average, but not to where you can't appreciate the high points in this film's style, which is in turn not so pronounced that you can't appreciate this film's substance, or at least when it actually works. This film's storytelling is nothing short of messy, thus promising subject matter goes betrayed, but still stands, at least in concept, as unedeniable, with enough promised dramatic value to keep you interested, especially when such promises are, in fact, delivered upon, because as cold as Jacques Audiard's direction all too often is, there are points in which Audiard wakes up and delivers on a bit of liveliness, if not bonafide emotional resonance. The film is moving at times, and while it's not as compelling as it should be, it is reasonably engaging, with the occasional sprinkle of compellingness, made all the sweeter by a pair of onscreen performances that consistently compel, though not entirely on paper. There's not too much for our leads to work with, but when the handsome Matthias Schoenaerts and lovely Marion Cotillard find dramatic material, they deliver on pretty powerful emotional range to break up consistent charisma, augmented by effective chemistry. Our leads aren't as enthralling as I was hoping they would be, but they are more compelling that the film itself, because with all of its high points, this film still underwhelms, which is shame, because this film really could have been more, which isn't to say that it's not enjoyable, because what is, in fact, done right is easy to appreciate as enough to keep you invested in the final product as, if nothing else, decent.
Overall, unevenness in character focus is as considerable as unevenness in pacing, which goes from steady to dry much too awkwardly much too often, but at least keeps consistent enough in slowness to exacerbate the sting of the aimless padding that helps in making the final product an unassured and underwhelming effort, but one that still gets you by, delivering on decent score work and cinematography, as well as a worthy story that is carried by high points in Jacques Audiard's direction, and the charismas, moments of emotional power, and chemistry between leads Matthias Schoenaerts and Marion Cotillard, both of whom stand as key reasons why "Rust and Bone" is a decent drama with its share of entertaining spots, and even the occasional strong spot, regardless of the betrayals of full potential.
2.5/5 - Fair