Mark Reviews Movies

Disconnect

DISCONNECT

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Henry Alex Rubin

Cast: Jason Bateman, Andrea Riseborough, Max Thieriot, Alexander Skarsgård, Paula Patton, Jonah Bobo, Colin Ford, Frank Grillo, Michael Nyqvist, Hope Davis

MPAA Rating: R (for sexual content, some graphic nudity, language, violence and drug use - some involving teens)

Running Time: 1:55

Release Date: 4/12/13


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Review by Mark Dujsik | April 12, 2013

What ties the characters of Disconnect together is their reliance on technology for the easiest and most vital aspects of their lives. A teenage boy believes he's found a girlfriend when a random girl sends him a private message on a social networking website. A father sits at the dinner table with his cell phone in hand, texting back and forth with a troublesome client. A young man sits on a bed in a dilapidated house, looking into the camera of his laptop and trying to convince an unseen people on the other end that they should pay to watch him pleasure himself and maybe send him a gift if they like it, and on the other end of that online chat, a female reporter does the one thing the young man doesn't expect: ask him about his life.

The great power of the Internet and other technology that allows us to talk to almost anyone, anywhere, and at any time is just that; the great peril of having lives connected to the world at large but separated from people is just that, as well. At a certain point, we have to come up for air after drowning in information, and Andrew Stern's screenplay, which starts as a preachy look at the dangers of being inundated with technology, ultimately is focuses on those moments—the ones in which people do come up for air and quickly realize that their lungs are straining from lack of use.

While there are, of course, physiological effects to an overreliance on technology, Disconnect is about the psychological and sociological ones, and even then, the film is smart enough to avoid direct sermonizing. The lecture is here, but it's articulated through the lives of an assortment of people—some of them connected directly or indirectly, some of them not at all—who have forgotten how to express themselves and talk to others—in other words, a parable.

It's not just talking, though; it's also seeing other people as human beings with the same doubts and fears, hopes and aspirations, and longing to be part of something as everyone else. We might be forgiven for forgetting that fact about others, but the film suggests that we might have become more susceptible to overlooking it about ourselves.

There is no other way, for example, to explain the life of Kyle (Max Thieriot), a seemingly bright young man who is the same young man from the opening paragraph who makes his living appealing to the baser natures of anonymous people from a hellhole of a communal house, filled with other young men and women (and, in certain instances, teenagers) who do the same. His newest customer is Nina Dunham (Andrea Riseborough), a television news reporter who sees a story in the lives of people like Kyle—runaways and abandoned young people who try to eke out a living performing sex acts on the Internet. She tries to gain his trust, which he is hesitant to give.

Elsewhere in the city is Ben (Jonah Bobo), a teenage loner without any friends who finds comfort in composing music in the privacy of his bedroom. His father Rich (Jason Bateman) is a workaholic attorney who doesn't talk to his son. Ben's sister Abby (Haley Ramm) considers herself too popular to be seen with him, and his mother (Hope Davis) is also here but doesn't fit into things until she can be the voice of reason.

Jason (Colin Ford) and Frye (Aviad Bernstein) are Ben's classmates; they spend their days after school playing video games and pulling pranks on people at the mall. Ben, witnessing the effect of one of those pranks, shoots the pair a quietly judgmental look, and the two boys decide to exact their revenge by creating a fake girl from another school who expresses interest in Ben. It's a terrible form of bullying, this, in that it raises the kid's hopes to such a point that the crash will be tremendous.

Finally, Derek (Alexander Skarsgård) and Cindy Hull (Paula Patton) are having difficulty adjusting to life after the death of their infant son. He has become distant, refusing to speak about his emotions, and she has retreated to an online support community to find the solace her husband is unable to provide her. Someone has gained access to their credit cards and bank accounts, and after the police fail to do anything about it, Derek hires a private firm to investigate. The investigator (Frank Grillo), who also happens to be Jason's father, follows the hack to Stephen (Michael Nyqvist), a man Cindy has been chatting with online in the support group. The two decide to find him to find concrete evidence of his involvement in the identity theft.

We've become accustomed to such episodic, multi-character portraits cramming characters together in contrived happenstance, but Stern's screenplay allows the stories of each set of characters to unfold on their own merits. Any connections that occur are natural to the premise of each scenario. That means that the story of the Hulls and the confused relationship between Kyle and Nina exist in their own respective bubbles. Their impact is not nearly as great as what turns into the central story of Ben, his remorseful bully Jason, and their fathers, who are forced by tragedy to question the kind of fathers they have been.

The collisions are of the thematic variety, culminating in a montage of a trio of violent impacts that director Henry Alex Rubin films in apprehensive slow motion. The title Disconnect is misleading; it's merely the state in which the characters begin. This is a film about characters reconnecting—to others, themselves, and the world—and how unprepared they are for it.

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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