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'Rust and Bone' not quite deep enough

| Thursday, March 14, 2013, 8:55 p.m.
StudioCanal
Marion Cotillard in 'Rust and Bone'

This gritty examination of physical and psychological wounds offers a superb performance by Marion Cotillard, who speaks volumes with her eyes, and a less-convincing one by her lead co-star.

“Rust and Bone” seeks to explore the strength that lies within what appears outwardly damaged.

Marion Cotillard gives an exquisite performance as Stephanie, a whale trainer at a marine park who loses both legs in a freak accident. For a while, she loses her life spark, then settles, if not comfortably, in a matter-of-fact emotionless limbo.

In this stark drama, Stephanie connects with the brutish Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts), a man who's physically intact but spiritually broken. A drifter, Ali is the careless father of sweet 5-year-old Sam (Armand Verdure). Stephanie is a woman with a career, a relationship, a nice home and sufficient money. If not for her accident, the two would barely have crossed paths, let alone found a place in each other's lives.

Director Jacques Audiard, who made 2009's powerful “A Prophet,” probes the contours of their unlikely bond, and when he focuses on Stephanie and her adjustment to being a double amputee, the film is particularly moving.

But in its portrait of Ali, a petty criminal who makes money as a street fighter, the story grows inert, hindered by Schoenaerts' expressionless performance.

Their connection feels false, as do many of the events in this unrelenting film. At its most stripped- down, the message is jarringly simple: She has no legs and he has no heart. Will they understand and complete each other?

his gritty examination of physical and psychological wounds offers a superb performance by Marion Cotillard, who speaks volumes with her eyes, and a less-convincing one by her lead co-star.

“Rust and Bone” seeks to explore the strength that lies within what appears outwardly damaged.

Marion Cotillard gives an exquisite performance as Stephanie, a whale trainer at a marine park who loses both legs in a freak accident. For a while, she loses her life spark, then settles, if not comfortably, in a matter-of-fact emotionless limbo.

In this stark drama, Stephanie connects with the brutish Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts), a man who's physically intact but spiritually broken. A drifter, Ali is the careless father of sweet 5-year-old Sam (Armand Verdure). Stephanie is a woman with a career, a relationship, a nice home and sufficient money. If not for her accident, the two would barely have crossed paths, let alone found a place in each other's lives.

Director Jacques Audiard, who made 2009's powerful “A Prophet,” probes the contours of their unlikely bond, and when he focuses on Stephanie and her adjustment to being a double amputee, the film is particularly moving.

But in its portrait of Ali, a petty criminal who makes money as a street fighter, the story grows inert, hindered by Schoenaerts' expressionless performance.

Their connection feels false, as do many of the events in this unrelenting film. At its most stripped down, the message is jarringly simple: She has no legs and he has no heart. Will they understand and complete each other?

What “Rust” does convey potently is Stephanie's struggle with grief and shame and the process of overcoming fear and self-pity and embracing pleasure. She won't let tragedy define her.

An overheated climax that transforms Ali undercuts any honesty that was initially captured. For too long, the film's potency is blunted by a sense of clinical detachment, then suddenly there's a watershed moment that feels shockingly trite.

“Rust and Bone” tries hard to be starkly unsentimental, but ends up feeling manipulative and conventional.

Claudia Puig is a film critic for USA Today.

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