Rust and Bone could well have failed. In many other hands the story of a killer whale trainer who loses her legs but finds strength and her resurrection in an unlikely relationship with an underworld bare knuckle boxer with a good heart…well, it could have been a monstrous amalgamation of Rocky meets Free Willy with the contrived over-sentimentality of Steel Magnolias. But in the hands of Un Prophet‘s excellent helmer Jacques Audiard, the film swerves the “cancer story”/Oscar baiting stigma that some will accuse it of thanks to a simple but engaging central story and two award-worthy performances from its central actors. Marion Cotillard plays said whale trainer – Stephanie – who loses her legs after a performance accident, and who regresses rapidly to a self-destructive stagnating state, but who finds hope and the capacity for her own resurrection through a relationship with Matthias Schoenaerts‘ bare-knuckle boxer Ali, who lives hand to mouth by any means before his underworld fights offer him and his son some opportunities for a slightly better life. Having briefly met Stephanie before her accident, Alain helps her to find herself again not through pandering or pity, but simply by offering his help and his company, and you have to give credit to Audiard that his story never strays towards saccharine, made-for-TV style sentimentality.