A PTSD-afflicted soldier on leave, but desperate to return to warfare, is granted his wish during a bodyguard job for a politically connected family in Alice Winocour's paranoid thriller.
Disorder is yet another addition to a long, tired line of spartan thrillers featuring troubled, quiet men of violence. Leavened by great acting and spectacular sound design, though, it packs enough suspense to be more engaging its peers.
Vincent (Schoenaerts) returns from duty damaged, two scars on the back of his head the only obvious outward sign of enormous trauma. With his future in the military in doubt due to possible medical dismissal, Vincent takes a job as security for a wealthy Lebanese businessman of dubious profession. His suspicions are pricked when he overhears conversations of possible political scheming at a party, and only grow when he is placed as bodyguard to his employer's wife (Kruger) and son (Errougui-Demonsant) and believes that they're being followed. But is the threat real or merely the paranoid symptoms of his condition?
Expertly paced, Winocour keeps Disorder very taught, letting the audience question the ambiguous threat and feel uneasy with Vincent. The restless calm of much of the film lends intrigue to Vincent's precarious state of mind and, when violence does erupt, the release of pressure is effectively disturbing. The film's ace card in the build-up and break of stress is the soundtrack, which, both in design and music, overloads the mind with a bewildering melange of rhythmic environmental sounds and the harsh drones, whirrs and beats of industrial synth. The subtle changes in tone and space in the sound design bind together with the unnerving music, twisting during tense moments in an ever-increasing density of sound to evoke substantial anxiety.
The measured cinematography by Georges Lechaptois is also effective in successfully building and yielding tension, but this is largely the limit of what it offers and highlights the failure of the film to produced something more meaningful than adrenaline. Disorder is heavy on the technique but light on the substance, and poetic imagery is thin and fleeting. One particularly effective shot transforms a floating black bin bag into some cancerous portent of doom. Moments like this give hope that the film will be smartly restrained but visually incisive, however, the supposed restraint seems to more indicate a lack of depth and Disorder is content to rely on an overabundance of more obvious techniques, such as slow-motion and shallow focus.
This visual superficiality is matched by the script, as the thin plot fills with McGuffins and little in the way of character is developed. The fact that a writer like Winocour, who has already proven herself capable of writing with remarkable insight in her script for Mustang, fails to provide much of interest is confounding. The prosaic use of PTSD is the most disappointing and careless aspect, as it never rises much beyond a plot device. Initially, through the portrayal of Vincent as a disconnected sentinel, the film suggests an interesting perception that he is stuck in a no man's land, able to take part neither in the battlefield he wants to return to or life at home. A promising evolution of this, when it's proposed that Vincent's trauma, due to invisibility, is perhaps more torturous than that of the amputees we see in a veterans hospital, leads nowhere. The script eventually abandons all this emergent complexity to run the second half of the film on part notions and cliches. Trite dialogue in later scenes, such as Vincent's only friend explaining that Vincent is still trapped "over there" in his mind, are death knells and the film ends having said little. An abrupt ending on an enigmatic image comes unearned, and consequently feels pretentious.
While subtlety is lost in the script and visual direction, the performances stand in recompense. Kruger does yeoman's work to bring what depth she can to a flimsy damsel-in-distress character and Schoenaerts excels in emanating the barely bridled violence under Vincent's skin. Contrasting a fidgety agitation with soft eyes that constantly look on the verge of tears, he evokes a poignant man-child persona that contrasts uneasily with moments displaying a frightening brutality. The awkward chemistry between the two is enough to supplement the script's lack of anything interesting to say about their relationship.
Disorder has some impressive elements that hold early promise and are exciting in the moment, but never amount to much and leave the film seeming lightweight. We learn little about Vincent, so we care little, and films in this oft-mined vein of the stoic warrior thriller should offer more to say than their reticent characters.