Stop me if you've seen this before: A woman suffers a devastating injury, struggles with subsequent depression, and mopes in misery until a hunky new love teaches her to live again. If you're avoiding Jacques Audiard's Rust and Bone for precisely that reason, don't: The director of A Prophet and the underrated James Toback reworking The Beat That My Heart Skipped has a pulpy sensibility that wards off maudlin movie-of-the-week sleeve-tugging. What could have been a triumph-over-adversity weepie becomes a raw, bluntly erotic character study of two damaged people: a broke single dad turned underground boxer (Matthias Schoenaerts, in a star-making role) and a killer-whale trainer (Marion Cotillard) left a double amputee after an accident at Marineland.
Starting with those adventuresome occupations, Audiard stages the material for punchy physicality, even when the plot (adapted from some Craig Davidson short stories) isn't focused on fistfights or casually life-affirming rough sex. Flesh in motion and collision is the movie's motif, and the first of the movie's refreshing surprises is that the digitally de-feeted Cotillard (marvelous in a much livelier star vehicle than the Edith Piaf biopic that won her the Oscar) stops wallowing in record time for the genre, warming to the hulking Schoenaerts' suggestion she use him for booty calls.
The movie doesn't escape its sentimental pitfalls entirely — an 11th-hour family crisis is plot machinery that creaked already when the Warner bros. cranked it back in the '30s &mdash. But the dynamic lead performances make Rust and Bone as smarm-resistant as the substances in its title. The movie opens tonight at Green Hills.