Chaos has three quite distinct sections, the first of which is promisingly original and deftly executed. A prosperous middle-class couple are seen rushing about their flat, preparing for an evening out. Driving down a quiet street, they observe a woman running towards them, crying for help as she is chased by several men. Paul (Vincent Lindon), the husband, stops the car, but locks the doors. He and his wife, Helene (Catherine Frot), watch tensely, but silently, from the safety of their car as one of the thugs smashes the woman’s face into their windshield and continues to beat her, then runs off, leaving her bleeding in the street.
Paul gets out of the car and starts to clean the blood off of the windshield; he’s worried about his car and his possible implication in the assault. The battered woman lying in the street seems not to exist for him. When Helene protests out of concern for the victim, he upbraids her, fuming about the potential unpleasantness of dealing with the police.
The scene is a powerful opening, grippingly dramatic and revealing of character. It leads to anticipation of serious drama to come, but instead the film unexpectedly, but gracefully, segues into an amusing satirical portrait of Paul (an utterly selfish lout who justifies bringing back the 1960’s catch-phrase, "sexist pig") and their son, Fabrice (Aurelien Wiik), a chip off the old block, a teenager who lies, brushes off his own mother like chaff, and jumps in and out of bed with equally casual young women. The satire has bite as the hurt of the victims of these men is observed.
Helene, haunted by their failure to assist the victim, seeks her out and finds her in a hospital, in a coma, and resolves to help her. The woman, Malika (Rachida Brakni) is a prostitute and the men who beat her in the street are still after her, providing some tension to the story line while the family’s unraveling is developed.
It’s when Malika finally regains her speech that the movie swerves into it’s middle section, an over-extended voiceover in which she relates her life experience to Helene. Sold by her father to an Algerian businessman, she ran away, only to be victimized by a pimp who got her hooked on heroin and put her out on the streets to work. But she plots a way out that involves seducing a dying man in Switzerland and playing the stock market. The longer she talks, the more inane and unbelievable this backstory gets. Clearly intending to encompass many aspects of the victimization of women (a legitimate theme, certainly), it begins to play like a political tract. The drama is gone, the satire gets flabby if not entirely forgotten, and Malika’s storyline becomes ridiculously convoluted and just silly. Any connection with reality is lost.
In the final section, Malika plots her revenge, enlisting Helene as her accomplice. Character development goes by the wayside, the story becomes genuinely humorless and ponderously plot-heavy as it attempts to tie up all the characters with neat bows on their packaged fates. Despite skilled performances (in particular that of Catherine Frot), what started out as a character-based dark satire ends up as a preposterous caper flick. Writer/director Coline Serreau (Three Men and a Cradle) essays here an audaciously risky mixture of genres that doesn’t jell, but the first part of the film indicates promise of better work to come in future outings.