Film Review – Disorder
Matthias Schoenaerts enters the realm of legitimate international star in Alice Winocour’s Disorder (2015). Schoenaerts has been a working actor for years now, but it’s with this performance – as a French soldier suffering from a severe case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – that should put him on the map. He is the center of the film and rightly so. Much of what makes Disorder work is through his underplayed yet unnerving delivery. Wincour (who writes and directs) capitalizes on his ability to draw us in and wonder what he is thinking: how he is barely able to keep what’s inside from bursting out.
There are very few actors who can occupy a physical space in such in intimidating way as Schoenaerts. Just like he did in Bullhead (2011), Schoenaerts has a knack for amplifying his presence to appear larger within a scene. He fills the character of Vincent like a man made of stone. Years of military training shows in how he moves through his daily routines – even his walk has a kind of forceful momentum, as though he could stride through a brick wall without skipping a step.
But to say that Schoenaerts’ portrayal of Vincent is merely physical would be incorrect. Vincent is a much more layered character than just a tough guy. We learn that his tours at war have given him hearing loss and bouts with PTSD. He experiences hallucinations and episodes of paranoia. I don’t claim to be any expert in PTSD, but the depiction of it here has an authentic quality. Winocour doesn’t choose to go for the big, sweeping gestures that we would normally see from a character with a disorder such as Vincent. She chooses to take it from a cerebral place, directing Schoenaerts to play the character with minimalism. Along with PTSD and hearing problems, Vincent is also inarticulate, unable to express his feelings about being in battle or what he is going through now. He is a jumble of frustration, insecurity, and rage. His performance reminds me a lot of Robert De Niro in Raging Bull (1980). That’s not a comparison I normally make.
Wincour’s direction (this is her second feature length film) shows a good grasp of sound design and visual communication. The best moments come when we see Vincent struggling to gain control of his anxieties. The sound design parallels Vincent’s hearing problems by varying extremes in volume. Certain moments sound almost silent while others come roaring in like a tidal wave. Wincour uses slow motion when we look through Vincent’s point of view, keying in on his fear that danger lurks from every direction. Mike Levy’s synthesized score doesn’t have the cool sensation that we would get from a John Carpenter, Tangerine Dream, or Cliff Martinez. Instead, it has an abrasive, almost puncturing like quality, contributing to Vincent’s mindset.
The plot is one of the less interesting elements at play. In an effort to stay afloat while between tours of duty, Vincent takes a security job, getting assigned to protect Jessie (Diane Kruger) the wife of a Lebanese businessman, and her son. This premise leads toward a number of clues making us think the story will veer off in a certain direction but ends up only being red herrings. Television sets are scattered everywhere, showing news station reporting on a possible political scandal. There’s the possibility that Jessie’s husband is working in the black market, and that being called away may have something to do with criminal associations. We also get introduced to the possibility of romance between Vincent and Jessie, as Vincent sneaks little glances at her that point toward his attraction. But most of these don’t really develop to anything substantial.
The first half worked the best because it focused almost exclusively on Vincent’s efforts to overcome his PTSD. When Jessie and her family get introduced, it pushes the narrative toward a conventional thriller, which sadly is not as engaging. There are some really well done scenes, however. When Vincent attempts to investigate Jessie’s husband’s shady business deals and she questions if he’s smart enough to do so, his reaction shows just how vulnerable and dangerous he can be. We also get a scene where one of Vincent’s security pals visits and flirts with Jessie. The way the flirtation goes so smoothly, juxtaposed with Vincent’s clear social awkwardness, help to uncover more of his personality. As Wincour moves toward traditional thriller tropes – with Vincent protecting Jessie ala The Bodyguard (1992) – she loses the energy because there isn’t much suspense in that department. The main conflict lies in Vincent’s personal battle and not with random bad guys trying to break into Jessie’s home. This problem comes to a head in the final shot, which is so bizarre and absurd that it puts a damper on almost everything that came before it.
Disorder may not be a great film, but it contains a great performance. Matthias Schoenaerts is the real deal, and I would not be surprised if he becomes a more recognized name in the near future. His work is so effortless that he makes what is surely a difficult role look like second nature.