by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday August 12, 2016

Matthias Schoenaerts stars in 'Disorder'
Matthias Schoenaerts stars in 'Disorder'  

Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts has been all over the movies of late, especially in historical dramas, portraying Gabriel Oak in the latest big screen adaptation of "Far From the Madding Crowd," turning in a brave and sensitive performance as the third member of a not-quite love trio in the trans drama "The Danish Girl," and appearing with a cluster of more established stars in "A Little Chaos." Amidst these costume dramas he's slipped in a more contemporary -- and less clothing-intense -- turn in "A Bigger Splash."

Amidst all these high-profile projects we might forget that Schoenaerts is not newcomer to the scene; he's been working in TV and film since 1992. It's a testament to his persistence that his talents are now being showcased in major productions. We might also have forgotten that one of Schoenaerts' best fortes is playing muscular, troubled men -- the kind of role that stretches back to his work in "Pulsar" (2010) got him seriously noticed in "Bullhead" (2011), and made him the perfect match to Marion Cotillard, a powerhouse performer in her own right, in the superb, sublime "Rust and Bone" (2012).

It's to that mode of character that Schoenaerts returns in the taut thriller "Disorder," where he plays an Army guy named Vincent who's being kept out of action for a while during an evaluation of his psychological fitness after serving in Afghanistan. Between deployments, Vincent works as private security; an evening spent as rented muscle at the estate of a well-connected and very rich Lebanese man named Imad Whalid (Percy Kemp) opens the door to a longer-term opportunity as a bodyguard for Whalid's wife and son (Diane Kruger and Zad Errougui-Demonsant, respectively).

Vincent suffers hearing loss, bouts of paranoia, and hallucinations, so he (and we) can't really be sure about things he overheard while working the party: Mutterings about Qatar, a possible scandal affecting the upcoming French election, and suspicious-sounding payment schemes. Did he imagine these things? Or is Whalid stuck in something unsavory?

Vincent's worries only grow more intense during the two-week bodyguard assignment, during which time Whalid is in Geneva. Is that black car really following Vincent as he drives Whalid's family to the beach? Is the family compound truly secure, or do its vulnerabilities extend beyond occasional video surveillance blind spots? How much danger are Whalid's wife and son really in -- and Vincent along with them?

These questions get implicit answers when a group of masked men mount an attack. Who are they? What do they want? Vincent isn't just being paranoid when the local police confiscate his gun and then withdraw a promised security detail. The bad guys really are coming, but Vincent is resourceful -- and, being part of a military brotherhood, he's not alone.

Director and co-writer Alice Winocour proves once again that female directors can make smart, tension-suffused action movies about warriors. What Kathryn Bigelow did for soldiers serving abroad in "The Hurt Locker," Winocour does for military guys washed up on the sandbars of civilian life. But where Bigelow's "Hurt Locker" was written by a man, Mark Boal, Winocour and co-writer Jean-Stphane Bron widen the scope beyond tropes of adrenaline addiction and tribal male bonding. How does a soldier -- especially one scarred by the stresses of combat -- relate to civilians, especially women?

There's a subtle but hugely effective comment regarding both sexism and classism in the way we don't learn the name of Whalid's wife until about two-thirds of the way through the movie. (It's Jessie.) In part, this is the result of Vincent's employee-employer relationship to her, but to a much larger degree -- or so one senses -- it stems from the notion (under the surface but tugging strong as any riptide) that Jessie is Whalid's property. Vincent isn't there to babysit vulnerable people so much as to safeguard Whalid's stuff and, by extension, his status. The bad guys, conversely, have no obvious reason to target Jessie and Ali except insofar as they belong to Whalid.

The film does dip into a certain strain of sexism in its own right when Jessie irrationally refuses to leave her home, despite the danger of staying there once it's been breached by her husband's enemies. This is an extension of the way Jessie -- like any movie wife of a mob boss or corrupt official -- engages in a willful blindness about how her husband earns his millions, while at the same time indulging in the life those same millions affords her. But the film refuses to take that subtext to the next step, in which Jessie becomes Vincent's possession... or does it? We're teased with a maddeningly provocative image that could suggest this very outcome, but there are other possibilities at work, too, and they are just as likely.

"Disorder" knows exactly what its doing when it pulls you to the edge of your seat, and then knocks you back on your heels. From its maelstrom of violence and hyper-vigilance there emerge cunning ambiguities and questions left artfully unanswered.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.