Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Alice Winocur's DISORDER proves a paranoid thriller with excitement, depth and character

The first thing you may notice about DISORDER, the new film from Alice Winocur (shown below, who gave us the unusual Augustin three years back) is its sound design. As we follow a young soldier with PTSD, we're aware of a kind of pulse, beeps and background noise of all sorts, sometimes quite subtle, other times more forceful. I had to stop the disc once, just to be sure the sounds were not coming from somewhere in my apartment. No, they're in the mind and feelings of our protagonist, Vincent, played by Matthias Schoenaerts (of Bullhead, Rust and Bone, A Little Chaos, Far From the Madding Crowd and The Danish Girl), in what may be the best of his many good performances so far.

You could hardly ask for two more disparate movies - in terms of theme, content and genre than Ms Winocur's Augustine and Disorder (the filmmaker, who also co-wrote the screenplay for Mustang, is shown at right), yet she handles both films with an assured hand that gives us what those themes and genres need -- plus something more. Character would seem to be paramount to this filmmaker, and she provides it beautifully in both movies, while also adhering in her latest to some of the important conventions requires by the thriller genre.

That "character" is shown most prominently and importantly via Vincent (Schoenaerts is shown above and below), whose PTSD appears to have made him unable to continue his military service. He wants to, but things don't look promising. A compatriot gets him a security gig with a group who are protecting the home of a wealthy Lebanese businessman. When that businessman is simultaneously called away on emergency business and after Vincent has shown a bit more than mere competence on the job -- or maybe it's simply due to his friend's influence -- he is asked to stay on until the businessman returns to guard his house, his wife and his son.

The entire set-up here is geared for high stakes security, and therefore paranoia, and Ms Winocur very quietly and cleverly allows us to feel all of this without ever being certain whether what we're experiencing is actual danger or merely professional paranoia. Add to this Vincent's own unsettling symptoms, and we're on very shaky ground. For nearly the first half of the film we're kept on our toes and a bit breathless, wondering and waiting for one of those shoes to drop.

When the moment comes for action, the filmmaker proves to be more than up to the task. This scene is absolutely crackerjack -- thrillingly you-are-there -- and its aftermath (why are the authorities behaving in this odd way?) even more so. And Winocur brings everything to completion in a strangely satisfying manner than manages to bring a kind of closure, even as it honors its quest for character with a marvelous combination of strength, precision -- and doubt.

Despite its genre, the movie really has only four important characters, Vincent, the businessman's wife (a fine job by the always glamorous and usually expert Diane Kruger, above), his young son (a good, unfussy and believable job by Zaïd Errougui-Demonsant, below, left), and Paul Hamy as Vincent's friend, Denis (center, two photos below) who, due to all the paranoia surrounding us, we can't help but wonder just how good of a friend he really is.

The filmmaker captures well that initial distance and class difference between employer and employee, and she allows this distance to properly lengthen or shorten, as things take turns for worse and better. For their part Schoenaerts and Kruger do a fine job of making their relationship count, while keeping it as off-balance as is all else around us.

Finally, as it becomes clear that we can no longer trust police, government and who knows who else, we must reply on character.  It is here that Winocur makes her final and finest stand. Disorder gives us much of what genre fans will demand, and then a little more. I think you will remember it oddly and fondly -- right up until its final moment, which you will discuss and perhaps argue over.

From IFC Films and running a nicely-paced and just long-enough 98 minutes, Disorder opens in New York City this coming Friday, August 12, at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema and IFC Center -- while simultaneously becoming available via VOD. We're told that a nationwide, limited-release rollout will follow.

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