Starring Matthias Schoenaerts and Diane Kruger. Directed by Alice Winocour.
Not rated. Check listings for theaters. 1 hour, 41 minutes.
Bottom line: Story gets bogged down with ill-defined motivations and plot turns
The title of “Disorder” refers to a nasty case of PTSD plaguing a French soldier named Vincent (Matthias Schoenaerts), who has just returned home from his latest and likely final tour of duty in Afghanistan.
Diagnosed with persistent hearing problems and clearly still inhabiting a psychological war zone if not a physical one, Vincent tries to ward off ennui and despair by taking a private security job in the South of France, where he is tasked with protecting rich Lebanese businessman Whalid (Percy Kemp) and his family during a party at their gated estate.
But on a subtler level, “Disorder” might also be an apt description of the structural confusion at the heart of this intriguing thriller from French writer-director Alice Winocour, who works in a jagged, restless filmmaking style that favors sensory immersion over dramatic clarity. Then again, the title might be a reference to a world tilting into moral and political chaos, as signaled here by various TV news stations piping in grim reports of violence abroad: another mass shooting in the U.S., a fresh atrocity perpetrated by the Islamic State.
Nearly a full hour elapses before anything concrete happens, and until it does — in a genuinely tense, alarming sequence — Winocour is content to observe Vincent as he simply goes about his job. The experience of armed combat has trained him to see danger and menace behind every corner, and “Disorder” achieves a pointed, unsettling ambiguity as Vincent — listening in on suggestive conversations and occasionally barging in when he’s not wanted — gradually pieces together what he thinks is the truth about Whalid’s shady recent activities.
What he discovers could have lethal consequences for Whalid’s beautiful German wife, Jessie (Diane Kruger), and their young son, Ali (Zaid Errougui-Demonsant), who wind up under Vincent’s sole protection when Whalid abruptly leaves on an unspecified business trip. Showing a slick set of genre chops that were in no way suggested by her first feature, Winocour uses every resource at her disposal — intimate, jagged camerawork, ominously droning music and a marvelously detailed sound design — to evoke Vincent’s sharp yet stunted powers of perception, all but welding his internal circuitry to our own.
The trouble is that, even as she burrows deep into her protagonist’s psyche, the director (who wrote the script with Jean-Stephane Bron) frequently crosses the line between deliberate ambiguity and aimless confusion. For all Winocour’s obvious skill behind the camera, too much of “Disorder” bogs down in ill-defined motivations and credulity-straining plot turns.
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