disorder_cYear: 2016
Director(s): Alice Winocour
Writer(s): Alice Winocour, Jean-Stephane Bron
Region of Origin: France, Belgium
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Rating: Unrated
Digital, Color, 100 mins

Synopsis: Vincent is an ex-soldier with PTSD, hired to protect the wife and child of a wealthy Lebanese businessman while he’s out of town. Despite the apparent tranquility, Vincent perceives an external threat. (Source)

Alice Winocour’s Disorder is one of the few films that actually understands the impact of violence. For most films, violence is a way to go through the motions, waking audiences up every time there’s a lull in the plot, or an easy way to display slick, visually stunning sequences full of style, but little meaning. Thankfully, Winocour’s film is above all that, using violence to explore the deep-seated, psychological turmoil of an ex-soldier who can’t escape the war he’s come home from – expect a pace that’s patient and full of dread, putting us squarely within the mind of Winocour’s troubled protagonist and into a world rarely explored in this way. Star Matthias Schoenaerts delivers another knockout performance, working hand-in-hand with Winocour’s visceral direction to create one of the year’s most unique thrillers.

After returning from an unspecified tour of duty, French Special Forces soldier Vincent (Matthias Schoenaerts) is grappling with PTSD but determined to get back in the field. Despite a case of rapid hearing loss, crippling paranoia, etc, Vincent takes up a job with some colleagues as a bodyguard. One thing leads to another, and soon enough, Vincent finds himself assigned to the wife and child of a wealthy international business man, who may be the subject of some shady dealings. What could’ve been a routine job, however, quickly spirals into something more terrifying, as it becomes increasingly difficult for Vincent to differentiate his own paranoia with legitimate, looming threats.

Setting the film far above its counterparts, is a fresh perspective resulting in an action film driven by internal struggle, as opposed to gunfights or bloody standoffs. Though the film does have it’s fair share of physical violence, these encounters are an end result and not something the film rushes towards or relies on, making each moment of brutality that much more shocking. Above all, this is a film that puts us squarely in Vincent’s shoes, and his inability to reintegrate with the world around him. The violence he’s been a part of has cut him off socially, preventing him from truly connecting – there’s even a hint that he’s grown dependent on it, with fleeting moments of rage that seep through his calm demeanor. This restraint carries over into Winocour’s immersive presentation, as she populates the film with a palpable atmosphere protracted by vivid close-ups, sound effects which fade in and out amidst blurry images and a pulsing score from electro artist Gesaffelstein. All of it results in a singular experience that contrasts the unsettling, voyeuristic aspects of Vincent’s job and his progressively unhinged state of mind. The film’s ending crystalizes how this isn’t about clear-cut heroism or finding answers to the story’s plot, but the damning, confusing effects of an inescapable cycle of violence.

disorder_dWinocour’s fierce approach is matched only by a hypnotic performance from Matthias Schoenaerts. As Vincent, Schoenaerts adds another compelling character to his body of work, again showcasing his unique physicality through a tormented and internalized performance. Schoenaerts is brilliant at saying things without words, with his body language bringing to life a character who can be imposing, lumbering and intimidating, but still sensitive underneath it all. Each scene plays off the idea that he could explode at any second, and it’s this asset that anchors the film’s tension. Diane Kruger’s Jessie rounds out Schoenaerts with a character just as enigmatic. By design, we only see her at a distance, but she creates a necessary contrast as someone who struggles with a similar kind of weariness, someone used to keeping everything internalized, but more willing to reach out.

Under any other director, Disorder could’ve been a generic action film or home invasion riff, moving from one tiring fight to another and collecting a high body count for a few cheers. Instead, Winocour’s latest is much more impactful, a deliberate slow burn that chronicles psychological violence while subverting audience expectation and simmering with unease. By avoiding violence for most of the story’s runtime and really earning it, the film is a brutally raw look at the war that rages within, building to an unexpected climax that haunts the more we think about it.

SG