As a big fan of Jacques Audiard and his films (A Prophet, The Beat That My Heart Skipped), as well as stars Marion Cotillard (Inception, La Vie en Rose) and Matthias Schoenaerts (Bullhead), I was primed to really enjoy this engaging drama, particularly off the back of almost uniformly positive buzz following its debut at Cannes last year. It is the story of Stephanie, a whale trainer at a water park, who suffers a horrific accident that leaves her incapacitated and forced to change her entire life. She strikes up an unlikely relationship with thuggish Ali, a security guard who moonlights as a bare-knuckle boxer. Emotionally inert, broke and unable to adequately care for his young son, Ali is nevertheless drawn to Stephanie, whom he had met before her accident, but is still attracted to.

Bolstered by two incredible performances, that rely on nuance and screen presence to fully flesh out the roles, Audiard creates an unobtrusively smart and emotionally aware movie, filled with delicately beautiful photography and sound musical choices. However, the script tries too hard to do too much narratively, while leaving its central protagonists decidedly underwritten. The three credited writers stuff their screenplay with far too many subplots – sibling rivalry, underhand union dealings – that detract from the pivotal relationship between this unlikely couple. The final act is a procession of bad writing choices that rushes through a series of implausible developments, without adequate explanation of even being earned, which is completely at odds with the gentle, deliberate pacing of its first half. By the end, the film reaches an acceptable conclusion, but in a way that feels horribly forced and somewhat frustrating as a result, because so much of Rust and Bone is genuinely earned and expertly rendered.