‘Disorder’: Tension never lets up as a war vet scouts for threats

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Matthias Schoenarts in “Disorder.” | Sundance Selects

Ambiguity permeates almost every scene in suspense film “Disorder.” That sounds like it could be maddening. Here, the result is darkly compelling, as the tense movie constantly keeps viewers dangling.

Vincent (Matthias Schoenaerts) is a brooding soldier who has returned home from Afghanistan. He lives with his mother and is both emotionally wounded and brutish. He has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and some hearing loss, and he has a thing for taking prescription drugs without doctor’s orders. His point of view may not be grounded in reality; there’s a reason a large tattoo on his right arm reads “chaos.”

He lands a gig working security at a party held at the estate of a wealthy businessman named Whalid and his wife. Almost immediately, writer-director Alice Winocour begins to tease the audience. Vincent suspects something is going on, but we’re never sure quite what. He has a confrontation with a visitor whose name can’t be found on the guest list. Is it a mere oversight or something more sinister? He hears snippets of business conversations, which may or may not be clues. And because we’re basically in Vincent’s head, the film is full of odd, distorted noises and editing tricks that play with his — and our — reality.

Whalid must leave for business, so Vincent is hired essentially to babysit his wife, Jessie (Diane Kruger), and their young son. On a trip to the beach, he thinks a car is following the family. As he watches mother and son near the ocean, virtually everyone else he sees — a jogger, a man on a cell phone — arouses suspicion. Or sadness; there is an effective moment in which Vincent notices two young women looking at him with what he thinks is disdain, and Schoenaerts beautifully (and wordlessly) captures Vincent’s loneliness and isolation.

Vincent also starts to draw closer to Jessie, who often watches TV. Endless news reports about violence around the globe add to the overall unease and the big question at the movie’s center: Is someone after the family, or is Vincent a victim of his own paranoia? Either answer will be dangerous for the characters.

Winocour has crafted such a tightly coiled film that once violence finally erupts, it’s more of a letdown than an emotional release. But the movie still works, both for its bracing ability to keep a viewer on edge and the sheer force of Schoenaerts’ performance. The actor’s ability to offer glimpses of Vincent’s vulnerability and painful isolation is striking. In a giggly, flirty moment, Jessie makes an offhanded comment about how she thinks the soldier would enjoy Canada. His reaction — amusement, embarrassment and hope all combined — reaffirms both how multidimensional Vincent is and how gifted an actor Schoenaerts is.

Randy Cordova, USA TODAY Network


Sundance Selects presents a film written and directed by Alice Winocour. No MPAA rating. In French with English subtitles. Running time: 98 minutes. Opens Friday at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

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