Directed by: Henry-Alex Rubin
Written by: Andrew Stern
Starring: Jason Bateman, Hope Davis, Frank Grillo, Paula Patton, Michael Nyqvist, Andrea Riseborough, Alexander Skarsgård, Max Thieriot, Colin Ford, Jonah Bobo
For some, the internet is a relaxing form of entertainment and escape. For others, it’s a frightening place filled with exploitation and bullying. And for the naive and thin-skinned, it can be an uber-dangerous minefield. Real life hot topics and dramatic pathos collide in director Henry-Alex Rubin’s timely cautionary tale DISCONNECT, a film that will have you swearing off internet surfing tout suite. While the narrative tends to err on the heavy-handed side, it’s sentiment is in the right place – and it’s a scary one at that!
DISCONNECT weaves together the sordid tales of a few folks who utilize modern technology for both good and bad. Rich Boyd (Jason Bateman) is a workaholic lawyer who can’t communicate with his family, making his shy, musically talented son, Ben (Jonah Bobo), even more withdrawn. Emotionally and financially strained married couple Cindy and Derek Hull (Paula Patton and Alexander Skarsgård) are grieving the loss of their infant son when their identity is stolen by dry cleaner owner Stephen Schumacher (Michael Nyqvist), and all their possessions are confiscated virtually overnight. Consulting on their case is widowed ex-cop/ private eye Mike Dixon (Frank Grillo), who’s struggling to raise mischievous son Jason (Colin Ford), who just so happens to be cyber-bullying Ben. Reporter Nina Dunham (Andrea Riseborough) chats up teen Kyle (Max Thieriot) on an adults-only site one night and sees a career-making opportunity in his sad story. They are all strangers connected by one thing – the human need to connect. As you can imagine, this all leads to an explosive denouement.
There’s an intriguing fly-on-the-wall aspect to how Rubin showcases each vignette, as if we are voyeurs watching each of these characters’ hidden secrets come to light. Helping to elevate the film’s atmosphere and tone, Ken Seng’s cinematography is beautifully gritty and realistic in its documentary-esque style. And the slow-motion climax between the characters is some of the most breathtaking work I’ve seen in mainstream cinema. Andrew Stern’s script is heartrendingly relevant (what with bullying, credit card fraud, and the sex trade booming), and should stand the test of time as the internet and its problems won’t be disappearing anytime soon. In fact, as evidenced by the film’s message, it may just get worse unless people make a concerted effort to nurture their relationships in real life.
Because of a similar tone and expansive cast, parallels to CRASH are inevitable. Granted, DISCONNECT is a far less infuriating film. Performances from the ensemble are strong throughout, and even supporting characters are afforded breathing room. No one’s ever dealt short shrift or forgotten about – which tends to happen in bigger-budget ensemble pics. It’s interesting to see Bateman shed his comedic persona for a drama. Grillo gives a show stopping performance, handling most of the heavy lifting as the film’s connective tissue. Next to THE GREY, it’s some of his best work to date. Though her character’s decisions aren’t exactly the greatest (ahem, she sleeps with her boss to get ahead – is this still the 80’s?!), Riseborough is stunning.
Nevertheless, DISCONNECT doesn’t totally connect with its audience, as it falls prey to contrivance quite a few times – mainly with the Hulls’ story thread. The Hulls couldn’t have been drained of all their funds as bank accounts are set up for fraud protection such in cases like this. And when there’s a twist in the case, the fact that no one tells them until the very last minute seems phony. There’s a lot of unnecessary expository dialogue in the first act. We can clearly see Derek isn’t communicating to Cindy – we don’t need to see her typing this to her chat room pal.
Though this could have benefited from a script polish, the film is bolstered by the cast’s strong performances. While I found at least a few of the film’s story threads engrossing, other viewers may find themselves logging off before the third act’s end.
3.5 out of 5
DISCONNECT opens on April 12.