In the hands of master filmmaker Jaques Audiard, "Rust and Bone" is a raw and gritty film but also profoundly evocative and surprisingly tender.
Ultimately, fine films that explore the inlets and narrows of the human condition are character studies, examining how individuals respond in obvious and subtle ways, to the vagaries and exigencies of life.
This is the essence of "Rust and Bone." And, though clearly we are going to be told a story about two very different people, at no point does director Jaques Audiard telegraph where the narrative is headed. But what he does make clear, in the first set pieces, is that the two central characters will be inextricably connected.
First to be introduced is Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts), a father of a 5-year-old boy and homeless. The two are on their way to the city of Antibes, on the French Riviera, where they will stay with his sister whom he hasn't seen in five years. Ali is a hard case — self-involved, a brawler, a champion kick boxer — who soon takes a job as a bouncer at a popular nightclub.
One late night at the club, he rescues a young woman, Stephanie (Marion Cotillard), and drives her home (a bit bruised and disheveled) and discovers she trains orcas at a local marine park. Like Ali, she is remote, independent and emotionally guarded.
What occurs next is completely unforeseen and provides the scaffolding for the rest of the film. A horrible accident occurs wherein Stephanie sustains an irreversible injury, one that brings the two back together, as improbable as that seems. They are oil and water, and yet they build an alliance that is frank, uncompromising and unexpected. But then this film pushes toward the edge at every turn.
Stephanie finds herself at an emotional precipice, pushed to cope with impossible physical challenges. Ali is so deeply alienated from his feelings that the only time he engages fully is when he brawls for cash in back alleys, picking up ad-hoc kick-boxing matches.
What is lyrical about the film can be reduced to not only its many lovely moments, but the two astonishing performances by Cotillard and Schoenaerts. Cotillard portrays with a fragile, punishing silence — her signature sparkle and beauty abandoned to an encompassing depression — the depth of her loss post-accident. Meanwhile, Shoenaerts demonstrates a consistent and stony emotional restraint, revealing only the barest hint of his humanity. They're both remarkable as they deliver equally wonderful tour de force performances.
"Rust and Bone" is so, well, French, in its ability to slowly open like a large pedaled flower, absent all glitz, revealing its true nature as the story moves inexorably closer to the deepest parts of the two characters. It is compelling while it skirts excessive sentimentality, never becoming, even briefly, maudlin. It's a remarkable film.
"Parker" is a mano-a-mano, stripped-down, bare-knuckled, unapologetic action movie, and if you are a fan of the crime thriller genre, this film will appeal.
Is it violent? Indeed. But however contradictory this may sound, it never feels gratuitous. The hard, brittle edges — and that's what "Parker" is all about—— are seamlessly melded into Parker's character, portrayed by the underrated Jason Statham, more a character actor in leading roles.
Parker/Statham: Lethal, lantern-jawed, razor-wire stubble, possessing unexpected cachet, who is stoic in the extreme. And if you're Parker and you bring a knife to a gunfight, well, no worries.
The film opens with Parker and his cohorts in the process of stealing the weekend take at an Ohio state fair. Shortly thereafter, Parker is double-crossed and almost killed.
And so he sets out to track down the outfit (that is now holding his split) with the intent of creating real mayhem. See, Parker is a principled guy who lives by a code: only steal from those who can afford it; hurt no one in the process; and always do exactly what you say you're going to do.
Unexpectedly, a very broke and somewhat desperate Florida real estate agent, Leslie Rodgers (Jennifer Lopez), becomes ensnared in Parker's plan. Lopez is perfection in this role. She's inherently sweet, and possesses the indefinable "it" quality, hence she's a perfect foil for Parker's sardonic, tough guy persona.
"Parker" is a solid example of how lean and mean the genre can be in the hands of a fine, old school director, top-notch cast and excellent screenwriter.