Review by Joseph Fayed
Franz Rogowski has been on an impressive run over the last few years. He has consistently been the standout performer in films from acclaimed directors. In Giacomo Abbruzzese's directorial debut, Disco Boy, Rogowski gives another memorable and nuanced performance despite a mildly confusing script holding this film back.
Aleksei is a Belarusian man escaping his past. Out of desperation and having nothing to lose, he joins the French Foreign Legion to gain French citizenship. In the Niger Delta, Jomo is a guerrilla fighter defending his community. The two cross paths, and their fates intertwine in a way that war could never anticipate.
The two storylines are established quite well. The one featuring Aleksei naturally takes up more screen time due to the various shifts in location, but Jomo's narrative is built more slowly. Unlike most war dramas, the central theme here is not depravity but isolation. Abbruzzese bold choice gives these characters the humanity they were supposed to be born with. None of that is stripped away during an act of violence. Aleksei and Jomo's characterization is not what feels fractured in the film's second half.
That being said, the last act is where the plot reaches a rushed conclusion. Since the final act isn't based around bloodshed, one may think there is no need for resolution beyond what is presented at the surface level. The ending, in particular, is off-putting only because it does not present a new reality for our protagonists, and it more so has them do something in the vein of escapism. It does not feel like a change in tone that is warranted, but instead, it will have you feeling like you were psyched out until the end credits start rolling.
Franz Rogowski is as wonderful as he always is. His best moments come when he has little to no dialogue and has a look of remorse. It's all in the eyes of people; they say a thousand words. Rogowski makes Aleksei's uncomfortable situation watchable with the emotional wherewithal. Morr Ndiaye is alluring as Jomo and shows he has a promising acting career ahead of him. Neither Rogowski nor Ndiaye were subjected to relying on war film tropes like the stereotypical soldier fighting in a war breakdown moment; both were compelling without having to do something like that.
In Disco Boy, Giacomo Abbruzzese prioritizes protagonists over the politics of war. To some extent, it works because Abbruzzese proves that fighting in a war requires emotional, physical, and mental tactics, and your removal from that is a blend of all three. Impressive performances keep this film from becoming a chore to watch, even if the pacing becomes sloppy later on. Its message about disparity comes across well and never loses focus, and it's a poignant look at two very different men.
Disco Boy is now in theaters.