Disorder and the drama of ambiguity

Movie Review: Disorder

In this French film, a damaged ex-soldier becomes the bodyguard to the family of a shadowy businessman. There’s danger everywhere . . . or is there?


Starring: Matthias Schoenaerts, Diane Kruger

Directed by: Alice Winocour

Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Running time: 98 minutes

(In French with English subtitles)


By Jay Stone

Ambiguity can create an intelligent, if murky kind of art; there’s nothing like uncertainty to make you feel that you’re watching something true. The shadowy hero, the open-ended climax, the shaky narrative: they don’t just keep you off balance, they draw you in to a story that you’re often asked to create yourself, out of pieces of what you surmise.

Disorder — a title that describes both the predicament and the plot — is a psychological thriller made up of just such a bleak sensibility. It’s about an imperiled family and the damaged man who’s protecting them from something (the darkness of the modern world, perhaps), but that’s just on the surface. Really, it’s about whatever you think it’s about.

This kind of thing presents an interesting cinematic puzzle, despite the lingering suspicion that you’re being taken for a ride by an unfinished script. It helps that the pieces of the film are so well chosen: director and co-writer Alice Winocour (co-writer of the French drama Mustang) fills the screen with half-glimpsed clues, hints of dark doings, and a smart cast to act out a story that reflects the shifting moral ground of current events. If it doesn’t quite hang together, well, hey, what does these days?

It stars Matthias Schoenaerts, the Belgian actor of a thousand personae (the hulking fighter in Rust and Bone; the friend in The Danish Girl; the love interest in Far From The Madding Crowd) who is becoming one of those stars (along with Tom Hardy and Michael Fassbender) whose films you go to just because they’re in them. He plays Vincent, a French soldier with post-traumatic stress disorder — which presents itself as a haunted moral queasiness — after a stint in Afghanistan.

He now works for a private company providing security for a mysterious Lebanese businessman who is throwing a party at his lavish home on the Cote d’Azur. You’re not exactly sure what’s going on, except that there are rich powerful people there and Vincent is sometimes treated as a waiter and sometimes dismissed as moron. The camera of cinematographer Georges Lechaptois, prowling the grounds with off-again focus, provides his queasy view of threats that may or may not be present. He overhears snatches of conversations (“our people over there haven’t received their share yet”) that sound vaguely dishonest. The techno score by Mike Levy, a thrumming of electronic heartbeats, adds to the dislocation.

After the party, the host is called away to Switzerland for some unknown — but probably illicit — business and Vincent is asked to stay on for a few days as a bodyguard for the man’s wife Jessie (Diane Kruger) and their young son Ali.

Disorder slowly draws us into Vincent’s world. Like him, we’re unsure if there is a real threat to the family; Vincent seems paranoid, but then again, isn’t that how bodyguards must behave? Vincent is hyper-aware — he hears birds singing when we hear nothing — but that too is part of the job. His protectiveness toward Jessie and Ali are wrapped up in his physical attraction toward her, and who can blame him, especially after we have seen her at the party in her backless dress? And when there is, finally, real danger, it’s presented with such a sense of displacement that we begin to wonder about it. The final images reveal all; that is, nothing.

In the end, you’re not exactly sure what Disorder has told us, which is probably the point. Nor do Schoenaerts and Kruger give the game away; they play their roles with a strict, businesslike professionalism, in the same manner that dramatic actors cast in a comedy get their laughs by playing it straight. The doubt, and the disorder, are shared.

THE EX-PRESS, May 9, 2016

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ReviewDisorder and the drama of ambiguity

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Disorder: Rising star Matthias Schoenaerts stars in this French drama about an ex-soldier who is hired as a bodyguard to the wife (Diane Kruger) and son of a powerful businessman. He becomes attached to the family and saves them from several violent attacks, but we begin to wonder how much of what we are watching is real. The ambiguity is powerful, but the psychology (and the plot) don't quite hang together. 3 stars out of 5 _ Jay Stone

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