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'Rust and Bone' review: A brilliantly acted imitation of complexity

**1/2 (out of four)

Maybe it's just me, but if I lost my legs in an accident at my job as a whale trainer, the B-52s’ “Love Shack” would be the last song to cheer me up. There's plenty of ridiculous music out there that doesn't include the line, “I got me a car, it's as big as a whale.”

I also didn't quite believe the relationship that develops between Stephanie (Marion Cotillard of “La Vie En Rose” and “The Dark Knight Rises”) and Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) after Stephanie's accident. Her boyfriend disappears from the picture without recognition, so she calls Ali, a bouncer who drove her home after she was involved in a fight at a club. He may seem like a great guy, but he's not. New to the south of France, he mostly counts on his sister, Anna (Corinne Masiero), to watch Ali's 5-year-old son Sam (Armand Verdure); Ali would rather have sex with random women or rejuvenate his fighting career in scenes that, for what it's worth, look a lot more convincing than Kevin James' MMA brawls in “Here Comes the Boom.”

Aside from permanently altering my association with Katy Perry's “Firework”—that's what's playing when the staggeringly powerful Orca turns a performance into a tragedy—“Rust and Bone” reminds that a movie can be gripping and still not quite work. And it can feature a dynamite performance: Cotillard's exceptional in every moment and never overplays her sorrow or her recovery. Like Ali, director/co-writer Jacques Audiard (the great “A Prophet”) does not pity Stephanie, and Cotillard depicts the character's fragile strength in regaining her sense of self.

Of course, Ali's perpetual self-involvement and the relationship's emphasis on sex suggest questionable motives for his assistance and a single-minded view of living with a physical disability. It turns the movie from what might have been a moving tale of people bringing out the best in each other to a romance in which you worry what will happen when she really gets to know him.

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

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