Director and writer Jacques Audiard has been responsible for some of the most thrilling French movies of the past decade the marvellous A Prophet, the brilliant Beat That My Heart Skipped, the criminally under-rated Read My Lips but somehow this never quite hits those heights.
The main problem is that it never quite decides what sort of film it is classic Hollywood-style disabled drama? Crime thriller? Odd-couple romance? It’s all of these but the result is bitty.
Marion Cotillard plays Stephanie, a whale-trainer who loses her lower legs after a terrible accident. She mopes around her flat feeling sorry for herself, until she decides to ring the kindly bouncer at a nightclub who gave her a lift home after a fight. He, Ali (Schoenaerts), is a troubled man, seemingly drifting from one job to another with his young son in tow, uneducated but handy with his fists and a lover of kickboxing and has no problem carrying her down to the beach.
The two form an unlikely friendship he is uncomplicated, physically strong but emotionally retarded, but happy to carry Stephanie to the Cannes beach for some swimming and sun and maybe more. She however is more complex, refusing to let friends console her, and with mixed feelings about the whale park in which she lost her legs and about her apparent loss of sex drive.
The performances are terrific Cotillard gives Stephanie dignity without ever resorting to the obvious emotional pulls, and the film never pulls its punches she is often seen dragging herself across the floor trying to reach the loo.
Schoenaerts gives a tremendous performance, physical, strong, but with a child-like sense of humour and utterly oblivious to the emotional effect he is having on Stephanie and his own fragile son.
Halfway through the film though the plot takes a turn, with a coincidence that is pretty hard to take, and it loses focus. Cotillard’s character is off-screen for much of the time, and when she reappears there are repeated sex scenes which are unnecessary. Also there are lingering shots of her naked flesh which, even years after her character loses her legs, is beautifully toned.
In the end the film settles on melodrama and some rather obvious heart-tugging, which is a shame, as it promised so much more. A couple of scenes do pack a big punch, but as a whole it never quite hangs together and there are too many longeurs. If you can swallow Cotillard as an organiser of gypsy boxing matches you might have no problems with it, but for most it’s a stretch.
Overall verdict: Patchy drama which wanders around coming to no great conclusion, despite two enjoyable central performances. One of Audiard’s lesser works and something of a come-down after the wonderful A Prophet.
Reviewer: Mike Martin