It’s easy to scoff at the concept behind Disconnect. Oh yeah, we’re becoming a bunch of online zombies. Cell phones are ruining the world. Our identities will be stolen on the Internet. Sex chat rooms, blah, blah, blah… I hear yah! In one ear, out the other. You’re not telling me anything I don’t already know… Now, where do I input my social security number and you’re telling me you need my credit card number and security code to finalize this purchase? Well, here yah go!
Yes, identities are stolen over the Internet. Yes, porn and sex cams exist. Yes, people are taken advantage of and school kids can be cruel. All of this is true… So why would a film about it make us roll our eyes?
The reason I was a skeptic walking into Disconnect wasn’t necessarily the subject matter, but the fact it looked like Crash with cellphones. One of those coincidence driven films where everyone is tied to everyone else in ways they don’t know and will all inevitably come together in the end in some, supposedly, profound way.
I assumed by using the soulless cellular age to tell the story the film would reach a point where the enemy might be our next door neighbor only we’re too preoccupied playing “Angry Birds” to know it. In a way, I was right, but director Henry Alex Rubin and screenwriter Andrew Stern were able to tell the story in ways that worked, never making me think of the coincidence factor, and pulled off an ending that was eloquent enough for me to remain on board. I left feeling I’d seen a movie that realized its limitations and, as a result, was able to exceed expectations.
I don’t want to get too entrenched in telling you all the details of the film since there are simply too many characters and what’s really the point? However, here are a few bullet points…
Jason Bateman plays a father that’s lost in his work and therefore lost touch with his son (Jonah Bobo). Meanwhile, his son is a bit of a loner and some kids at school are using a fake Facebook account to cyber-bully him. Frank Grillo is a widower and single father whose son hates him, Andrea Riseborough is a TV news reporter looking to make a name for herself, Max Thieriot is a teenager working for a sex cam service and Paula Patton plays a woman who, along with her husband (Alexander SkarsgÃ¥rd), is about to have her identity stolen. Was it the guy from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Michael Nyqvist) that stole it? You’ll have to watch to find out.
These storylines play out over the course of the film’s 115 minutes, all connecting in some way, and you could easily argue for one to be cut if not two, giving us a greater chance to know the characters. I’d be the first to argue it’s a little long, but Rubin does his best to juggle multiple storylines and manages to focus on something other than cell phones and Facebook as often as possible.
Best known as the Oscar-winning director of the 2005 documentary Murderball, Disconnect serves as Rubin’s first narrative feature and he definitely can handle a narrative, which makes me wonder what he could do with something a little more intimate and complex on a much more human level as the complexities here are largely in wrangling this massive narrative.
What struck me, though, was his handling of the finale, which didn’t come as a major crescendo as much as it played like a fine-tuned aria, capturing specific moments in slow motion, allowing everything to sink in. The beauty is in his decision to present it in slow motion rather than forcing the characters to verbalize everything. It’s the knock-out moment of the film and the fact it’s what he was building toward makes it all the better.
I don’t need characters to regurgitate the film’s themes back to me. If you’re a competent filmmaker the story should have that handled. Like I said in the opening, we aren’t dealing with new found territory here. Instead we’re dealing with multiple levels of crisis and their resolution. This is a film that electroshock’s its digitally obsessed characters into coherence only to find the world around them crumbling in ways their iPhones can’t repair the damage. How will they react? How would you react?
Additionally, I loved Rubin’s musical choices and Max Richter‘s score offers a perfect musical balance, creating the exact right mood along the way.
Disconnect is by no means a “best of the year” candidate, but it manages to achieve a level of accomplishment it really has no right to attain and it does it by merely staying the course and never playing its scenes too big. The cast is up to the task and I can understand why some may shy away from this one, but those that find it in theaters will be happy they did and those that find it at home will wonder what took them so long.