Director Henry Alex Rubin’s (‘Murderball’) provocative and powerful cybercrime saga ‘Disconnect’ actually makes a solid connection in the cautionary fable of unpredictability regarding the computerized age of technology information. Gripping, informative, unsettling and rousing, ‘Disconnect’ is a dripping drama that weaves a cynical web regarding the way we live our lives so dependently online to the point that our existences are detached and disillusioned by the digital devices that have replaced our sense of intimacies and interactions.
Rubin’s sturdy and spell-binding techno-tale pertaining to stunted communication involving the diminished human touch is so timely in today’s world bombarded by social media (i.e. Facebook and Twitter accounts), sex chat rooms and the continued overall practices of hiding behind computers and laptops without any regard to personalised confrontations. ‘Disconnect’ attempts to convey the emotional and psychological distances that we place on our societal communicative expectations. Instead, we opt to express ourselves via the quick and limited 160 characters that text messaging offers or revel in the long-winded convenience of e-mailing as opposed to making a phone call and verbally reaching out. The rituals of toiling on the Internet and allowing online sources to dictate and gradually replace our means of socially bonding and humanly relating to one another is certainly the driving spirit behind Rubin’s mesmerizing messaging in ‘Disconnect’.
First-time screenwriter Andrew Stern (along with his impressive, insightful and ambitious script) methodically penetrates the uncertainties, paranoia, deterioration and criminal consequences that develop when a communal trance-enhancing technological attachment is reserved for the wonderment of surfing websites, posing for webcams and investing in the shifty shenanigans of the cyber-infested superhighway. Interestingly, Rubin’s sweeping direction and Stern’s impacting subject matter binds together the collective alienation of three sets of people as told in the storytelling mode of such definitive probing dramas such as ‘Crash’, ‘Babel’, ‘Magnolia’ and ‘Short Cuts’ just to name a few heralded ditties that share the familiar scope of problematic conflict in character studies.
New York suburbanites Rich and Lydia Boyd (‘Identity Thief’ star Jason Bateman and ‘American Splendor’s Hope Davis) are so bogged down professionally and personally with their laptops and smartphones that they criticise their gadget-loving loner teen son Ben (Jonah Bobo) for indulging in the same activities. Sadly, Ben, feeling his parents’ neglect and indifference, ultimately becomes a victim of a cruel romantic Facebook-related prank as perpetrated by an insensitive and tormenting schoolmate Jason (Colin Ford).
Endangered married couple Derek and Cindy Hull (Alexander Skarsgard and Paula Patton) are riddled with their on-going marital suffering as they both escape their immense heartaches by burying their faces into the computer screens without consoling each other and addressing their deep-seeded angst head on. For Derek, he’s a depressed doctor with a corruptible online gambling habit and mounting credit card debt. Cindy, still grieving over the untimely death of her baby, seeks comfort in an opportunistic stranger she has met online looking to capitalise on her self-imposed disillusionment. The embittered tandem comes together when they are determined to confront the identity thieves that stolen their information. The Hulls enlist the help of a seasoned and widowed computer fraud investigator (Frank Grillo) — the no-nonsense father of Ben Boyd’s cyber-bully Jason.
Lastly, local TV reporter Nina Dunham (Andrea Riseborough, ‘Welcome To The Punch’) has her hands full with the notoriety of breaking a sensationalistic news story involving an underage sex slave (Max Thieriot) trapped in the perverted clutches of a webcam pimp (played by designer Marc Jacobs in a riveting cameo role) as he is forced to sell his carnal services online.
‘Disconnect’ most likely will echo the sanctimonious tones of obviousness for some. Yes, the melodramatic seriousness of online evilness ranging from criminal intent to sex addiction to isolated humiliation and degradation. Rubin’s well-meaning exposition is scattered with heavy-handedness pathos and thought-provoking themes. Still, ‘Disconnect’ is well-acted and provides an exhilarating commentary on the darkened shades of technical advancement at the expense of our evaporating relationship with one another as a global society grown stagnant and wearier of our so-called humanistic regards for one another.
Thankfully, ‘Disconnect’ has the right kind of preachy pronouncement that is profoundly digested courtesy of the all-around effectiveness of the film’s thematic urgency. Stern’s wrenching script is skillfully taut and observant for an explosive storyline that could have been dismissed as too broad and manipulative.
In particular, Bateman’s terrific turn as a father clueless about his son’s lost motivations is quite moving and genuine. When not saddled in chest-pounding comedic tripe such as the aforementioned ‘Identity Thief’ and the equally insufferable ‘Horrible Bosses’ Bateman can be reflective, soulful and quite dynamic as he displayed in such promising vehicles as the critically acclaimed ‘Juno’ for instance. The other standouts are noted treasures of tragedy with subtle forcefulness as supplied by Patton and Skarsgard as well. Riseborough’s plucky and crusading TV personality hits the right note, too.
There should be no optional consideration possible for anybody to automatically press the delete button on Rubin’s involving and introspective ‘Disconnect’.
1 hr. 55 mins.
Starring: Jason Bateman, Hope Davis, Andrea Riseborough, Alexander Skarsgard, Paula Patton, Max Thieriot, Frank Grillo, Jonah Bobo, Colin Ford and Haley Ramm
Directed by: Henry Alex Rubin
MPAA Rating: R
Genre: Drama/Mystery & Suspense
Critic’s rating: *** stars (out of 4 stars)