Recommendation: Give it a watch.
The film “Disorder” may be a French language film playing at your local arthouse, but don’t assume that means it’s an artsy fartsy kind of movie. It’s a genre film, a thriller with all the familiar “thriller” features. But while “Disorder” may be recognizable, it’s not a throw away. Rather it uses its genre bones as a rack upon which to hang some heady, banging sound work and A+ performances.
The film follows Vincent (Matthias Schoenaerts), a French soldier recently returned from a stint in Afghanistan. He came back scarred, so messed up that the military isn’t planning on sending him back to the front despite his insistence that he wants to go, and he’s not having a good time getting back into the swing of daily life. He’s drugged up, hearing things and constantly getting lost in his own head when it would behoove him to pay attention.
This becomes especially true when he’s hired to babysit a rich businessman’s wife Jessie and son Ali (Diane Kruger and Zaïd Errougui-Demonsant). It’s election season in France and the man’s business appears to include some shady political underworking that puts Vincent on high alert– everywhere he sees threats, a trailing car or a suspicious man staring at them. As danger seems to close in on them, he becomes obsessed with protecting Jessie and Ali from whatever political malaise lurks in the shadows.
I can’t continue without addressing the sounds: they’re everywhere, they’re excruciating, and I love them. From the subtlety kicked up diegetic sounds to the twitchy electro scoring by Gesaffelstein, “Disorder”’s sound design works wonderfully to reveal the tension in Vincent’s head and obscure what’s real and imaginary. I only wish the amazing jam from the trailer was used more liberally.
The scoring lends a headache-inducing thrill to the movie’s claustrophobic camera. Vincent’s world, distorted by pills and psychological trauma, is often a tightly framed, slo-mo wave of colors and glitter. His boss’s glamorous lifestyle in the high-end of politics floats past us like a waking nightmare. There’s so much going on, too much decadence for anyone to take in.
Even with all these wonderful sights and sounds, Schoenaerts is “Disorder’s” shining star. While Kruger and the kid give fine performances, nothing matches the disturbing intensity of Vincent. Schoenaerts clearly gets that playing a someone with an anxiety disorder requires a fair amount of holding back– real people don’t twitch constantly when they’re disturbed, they try their hardest not to twitch, and I give him boatloads of credit for his performance here. He’s on edge and desperately trying to hold it together, while false alarms abound are stressing him nearly to his breaking point. It’s wonderful, subtle work.
Unfortunately my screen time with both Kruger and Schoenaert sagged under the weight of a useless and confusing romantic subplot. I understand the impulse to make your characters fall in love, but I rarely feel as weird about unnecessary romances as I did here. Vincent and Jessie not only didn’t work logically as romantic fodder for me (explain the setup again? He’s horny?), but also didn’t feel quite right– the two characters interacted with each other more like new buddies or siblings than as people romantically interested in each other.
Nonetheless “Disorder” is a tight, well-crafted thriller. Watch it in theaters for maximum effect, but it should retain its uneasiness on a small(er) screen with some good headphones if you don’t have the cash.