“Disconnect” Movie Review

     Academy Award nominated documentary director Henry Alex Rubin (“Murderball”) and writer Andrew Stern combine forces in their respective feature film debuts with “Disconnect”, a film which no doubt will be in the conversation as one of the best films of the year.  Certainly, I’m on board with that notion.  “Disconnect” kept my eyes glued to the screen for it’s entire two hour running time in way few films have.  Regardless of your age, it would be hard not to relate to what is a very compelling story that brings a stark reality to the technological advances our society enjoys each day.  The film follows a format many would be familiar with if you’ve viewed the 2005 Best Picture winner “Crash”.  Three unique stories going on simultaneously, each destined to collide with the other.  What connects them?  The constant use of technology from computers to iPhones and iPads. 

     To simplify things, this is film that is showing us the consequences of what happens when people indulge in too much of a good thing.  No doubt, most would argue the ability to stay connected via cell phones, email, texting, and the internet has made our lives easier.  The question is, does all of this come with a price?  Rubin cuts between three primary groups of characters to craft this tale and each is a clear representation of various age groups, income levels, and agendas.  I think back to childhood when my parents allowed 10 minutes of talking to friends on the phone each night via a land line in the kitchen.  They could easily listen in from their bedroom and when the time was up, my dad would come hang up the phone.  Today, kids are taking calls and texting at the dinner table and if you dare say anything, they now have the ability to complain later by posting on Facebook.  They feel their endless conversations aren’t their parent’s business, as they navigate their ever developing social lives in a web of social media.  If only they knew what lurks on the other end of those computer screens.  My son probably has over 500 “friends” on Facebook.  I don’t think I’ve even known 500 people in my life time, much less 500 people I would trust my personal information, photos, location, opinions, and special events with!

     Rich Boyd (Jason Bateman) is a successful attorney who has a wife, Lydia (Hope Davis), and two kids, Abby (Haley Ramm) and Ben (Jonah Bobo).  Rich never stops working and as a result doesn’t really pay attention to his family.  His son, Ben, is your stereotypical withdrawn child, who is antisocial at school and seemingly lives in his own world.  He has long unkept hair, dresses sloppily, and loves to listen to write his own music.  Unfortunately, this type of kid is an easy target for other kids who have nothing better to do than pick on and bully others.  In my day, this meant meeting at the bike rack after school.  Sadly, this is not the case today.  Two kids he goes to school with, Jason (Colin Ford) and Frye (Aviad Bernstein) begin to cyber-bully Ben by creating a fake girlfriend on Facebook, who then interacts with Ben within the page’s chat room.

     The ramifications of this dastardly act reminded me of Larry Clark’s 1995 film “Kids”, but with a modern twist.  This particular cross section of “Disconnect” disturbed me deeper than anything I’ve seen in recent memory and is a true warning to our society to control of our kids, as things are likely to only get worse.  Jason’s father, Mike (Frank Grillo), is a retired cop who left the force early to take care of Jason due to the passing of his mother.  Mike is one of the best characters in the film, as he always seems to exude a sense of realism, even during some of the most extreme circumstances.  He works now as a Cyber Crimes Detective for hire and that’s how he meets Derek (Alexander Skarsgard) and Cindy (Paula Patton) Hull, a married couple who have found themselves victims of identity theft.

     The third story involves an ambitious news reporter who is doing a story on child pornography.  The reporter, Nina (Andrea Riseborough) does her research by paying for and entering into websites which allow “camera to camera” contact with young males and females who perform sex acts.  In one such encounter, Nina meets Kyle (Max Thieriot) and their chatting leads to a face to face meeting where Nina proposes Max become the subject of a news story about the sexual exploitation of children.  This particular story is a stroke of genius by the filmmakers, as its resolution shows it is the media who goes at great lengths to exploit people for money (ratings) and to see them compared to and seen as worse than an illegal porn ring is a true slam.  I loved it.

     Rubin’s film is really his “Pulp Fiction”, as it displays taut storytelling with solid acting and its cultural impact cannot be denied. To see it is to witness an exercise in substance over style. Seeing Jason Bateman step away from comedy to show his dramatic chops is a welcome addition to the cast.  Alexander Skarsgard’s ex-Marine who is dealing with his wife’s cyber infidelity delivers a subtly intense performance as a man many will understand in this dog eat dog world we live in.  After having just seen Andrea Riseborough in “Oblivion”, her performance here shows her versatility as an actress, with a truly layered performance as someone who extends herself too far in order to get the fame and recognition she desires.  With the summer film season upon us, I doubt anything will match the emotional pitch “Disconnect” achieves, nor will we see anything this character driven. Technology hasn’t just ruined society.  It has also ruined movies as well.  Armies of digital artists in front of computer screens creating the next piece of eye candy for the masses to consume, all while ignoring the all important script. That’s what this technology driven generation wants.  Just check the box office grosses for both this film and “Iron Man 3” next week and you’ll see what I mean.