A pair of weary, doleful eyes set on a hulking, tattooed physique, Matthias Schoenaerts inhabits the warring instincts of a combat veteran in Disorder. Back in the shape of the street fighter he portrayed in Rust and Bone, Schoenaerts brings a similarly uneasy sensitivity to the character of Vincent, a French Special Forces soldier fresh off a stint in Afghanistan. In search of quick cash and a distraction from the physical manifestations of his PTSD, Vincent takes a temporary job as a private security guard for Whalid (Percy Kemp), an extravagantly wealthy Lebanese businessman with apparent ties to the French foreign ministry. After a satisfactory audition, Vincent is asked to look after Whalid’s wife, Jessie (Diane Kruger), and son, Ali (Zaid Errougui-Demonsant), while he’s away on a business trip.
Before Disorder becomes a programmatic and somewhat sloppy home-invasion thriller, it’s a particularly vivid portrait of a man warily eyeing the tumult of his homecoming. The film opens with a few scant shots of soldiers tromping through rocky terrain, and then sets Vincent in a black box with headphones on. Rather than putting Vincent (and the audience) through the familiar rhythms of worrying doctor visits and anxious family members, director Alice Winocour expresses Vincent’s alienation almost entirely through sound design. Vincent fails a hearing test in that black box, and the subsequent worries of his physician fail to pierce through a haze of ambient noise. “I want to go back,” Vincent tells him.
The pull of the battleground comes into sharp relief at home, when Vincent pulls two guns from a storage case under the tiny bed in his childhood home. The metallic cocking of these pistols is sharp and tactile, and as unnerving as Vincent’s panic attacks, which are scored to washes of choral music before diverging into either shrieking pizzicato or pulsing, synth-based techno. Disorder’s soundtrack, by the French DJ Gesaffelstein, occasionally seems to have The Shining on its mind, but its boldest flourishes unabashedly recall Chromatics’s contributions to Drive. They help Vincent maintain an aura of romantic melancholy, even as he succumbs to fits of anxiety and violence.
All of these conflicting energies churn with a productive tension during the film’s first half, especially through a garden party on Whalid’s estate. The event is populated by politicians, models, and suspicious guests, and Winocour uses it to map the mansion’s expansive grounds and to set up some elaborate international intrigue that the screenplay never bothers to develop. Instead, we watch as a tightly framed Vincent watches through security cameras, listens to half-heard snippets of conspiratorial portent, and follows potential threats through the world of the rich and powerful. Soon after, the grounds are abandoned, and Vincent spends the remainder of Disorder with Jessie, Ali, and a few unwanted visitors in black ski masks.
Winocour’s hyper-sensory approach to Vincent’s interiority is deftly established, but it founders amid the no-frills genre fare of the film’s back half, as Vincent plays body man to Jessie and a chaste love affair escalates with every new threat of violence. Instead of creating a space for Vincent to work through his problems, Disorder presents him with a woman and child to protect, and the attendant possibility of a family. A la Drive, the terse script renders this romance as a series of pregnant gazes, leavened with outbursts of Bourne-style knife play. It’s never quite clear who the masked henchmen are or what they want with Whalid’s wife, but a few potent thrills transpire, as every new threat begins with a muffled clattering that recalls a battlefield explosion. The implications for Vincent’s future are more disappointing though. His lust for violence has been briefly satisfied, and a woman’s touch presents itself as a tonic. We know enough to know how hollow this fantasy is.