PLOT: Multiple storylines, all dealing with society’s dependence on technology, collide over the course of a few days.
REVIEW: DISCONNECT is CRASH for the tech-obsessed. It tells several stories, which frequently intersect, dealing with our reliance on technology and our frequent use of it as an escape from our families and friends. While not a cautionary tale, DISCONNECT can certainly be seen as a warning not to become too immersed in the glowing screen in front of you - and the people you meet beyond it. You never really know who they are and what effect they might have on your life.
The way CRASH made plenty of people confront their own hidden prejudices, DISCONNECT will make those of us who spend most of our daily lives wired to the computer feel tinges of guilt and paranoia. Have a secret friend who you communicate with on Facebook or on a message board? Could be they’re not be who they seem. That moment you’re looking at your phone when a loved one is in the room trying to talk to you? That may be quietly killing them. The link you clicked when knew you shouldn’t have but felt compelled to? You could have just handed over your personal info on a silver platter to a stranger. Yeah, watching DISCONNECT is like seeing a catalogue of internet mistakes scrolling in front of you, and it’s sure to make you squirm just a bit.
But it’s not just meant to relay the dangers of being online all day; for most of its running time, Henry-Alex Rubin’s film is a compelling drama with moments of considerable suspense and performances of impressive range. Utilizing an ensemble cast of recognizable (but not overly-familiar) faces, Rubin and screenwriter Andrew Stern craft a multi-layered film that never comes off as melodramatic or cynical. It falls apart a little at the end, but not enough to damage a resonating experience.
In one story, a young outcast (Jonah Bobo) has his feelings toyed with by a cruel classmate (Colin Ford, very strong), who creates a fake Facebook profile to lure him into an act of humiliation. While seemingly inhabiting two different worlds, both teens have strained relationships with their fathers: the former is like an invisible boy to his lawyer pop (Jason Bateman, giving a first-rate serious performance), whose nose is constantly buried in his smart phone, while the latter tries with difficulty to handle his dad’s (Frank Grillo) tough love in the absence of a mother.
Grillo’s character is a former cop who now works as a private detective specializing in internet fraud; his latest case revolves around a couple (Paula Patton and Alexander Skarsgard) whose bank accounts are dwindling due to a crafty online theft - this possibly the result of Patton’s “relationship” with a stranger she met in a chat room and divulged personal information to. The couple will attempt to track down this person on their own (naturally, the police are of no real help), in the process hopefully creating a spark in their now-listless marriage.
The most separate from these is the story of an ambitious reporter (Andrea Riseborough, another stand-out) doing a story on teenagers who get naked online for money. Her contact in this world is Kyle (Max Theriot), a good-natured but lost kid who, after initial hesitation, agrees to be a part of the reporter’s story. A bond is ultimately forged between the two (much more for him than her), but her story attracts the attention of the FBI, which puts her career in jeopardy and his life in danger if his seedy “boss” (Marc Jacobs) discovers the truth.
While these stories run into each other at various intervals, they all work on their own terms as dramatic and genuine. Everyone earns our sympathy at one point or another (even the classmate tormenting the poor gullible loner proves to be a misguided but sensitive kid), and the woes that befall them are harsh but believable; only at the very end as all the stories reach their climaxes during a slow-motion montage, does Rubin step into schmaltzy territory. It's an unnecessary flourish, attempting to drive home emotion in a way that is both heavy-handed and slightly condescending.
Nevertheless, DISCONNECT is often a thoughtful and affecting work.