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Solace 2 September 2016  There's plenty of electricity and chemistry at play in "Disorder," a French drama about a veteran of the war in Afghanistan named Vincent who takes a temporary civilian gig babysitting the wife and son of a mysterious entrepreneur while the husband is away on business.

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As it turns out, most of that electricity Solace and chemistry exists in Vincent's throbbing head, and nowhere else. The story itself is surprisingly inert, especially for a film that purports to be about forbidden sexual tension.

A victim of PTSD from some unspecified incident, Solace Vincent suffers from insomnia, hearing loss, visual and auditory hallucinations and the shakes. As a result, he self-medicates with an under-the-counter cocktail of such pills as Lyrica, Acupan, Ultram and Rivotril.

Although the film never explains what any of those names mean, the first three are painkillers, and the last one is often used to treat panic disorder. In short, Vincent (played by Matthias Schoenaerts in a performance that switches between brooding silence and action-thriller heroics) is a numbed-out, fuzz-brained mess - albeit a very, very good-looking one.

It's just that when he exchanges meaningful glances with his charge Jessie (Diane Kruger), and they share a lingering look over a late-night plate of pasta, it isn't always clear whether he's eyeing her with sublimated lust or is in the middle of downloading instructions from the mothership. There's a blankness to Schoenaerts's portrayal that comes across as part ticking time bomb and part spaced-out zombie.

Of course, it could simply be a wooden performance.

It's therefore refreshing when Vincent springs into commando mode, as when a pair of assailants suddenly materialize out of nowhere while Jessie and her young son (Zaïd Errougui-Demonsant) are on their way back from a day at the beach, or when another group of ski-masked hoods break into their home during a conveniently timed rainstorm and power outage. It isn't clear what any of these goons want, exactly, but the implication is that it has something to do with the shady husband (Percy Kemp), who may be an arms dealer.

Eventually, the very existence of these threats is called into question, although writer-director Alice Winocour ("Augustine") doesn't frame that inquiry in an especially interesting way. She is far more masterful in her handling of the fractured, horror-movie sound design, moody lighting and Jason Bourne-esque fight sequences, even if they are sometimes as maddeningly ambiguous as they are thrilling.

"Disorder" is, in other words, more of a technical achievement than an artistic one. The movie is at its best when it recreates what it must feel like to be in a constant state of paranoia and pain. If only that feeling were accompanied by one or two other emotions.


Two stars. Unrated. Contains obscenity, violence and prescription drug abuse. In French and some English with subtitles. 99 minutes.

Ratings Guide: Four stars masterpiece, three stars very good, two stars OK, one star poor, no stars waste of time.