Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 55 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Sexual Content, some Graphic Nudity, Language, Violence and Drug Use -some involving Teens
Directed by: Henry Alex Rubin
Written by: Andrew Stern
Starring: Jason Bateman, Hope Davis, Frank Grillo, Andrea Riseborough, Paula Patton, Alexander Skarsgard, Colin Ford, Max Thieriot, Jonah Bobo & Haley Ramm
In our wondrous technological age, incredible possibilities surround what you can do online. You can instantly chat with someone from another country, browse for previously hard-to-find content, and stay connected with friends and family through a variety of social networks. With all the good comes some bad as well. Certain filmmakers have tackled difficult topics about the digital age in the past, but most of those films amounted to being a cheap made-for-TV movies or a heavy-handed moral stories that treated the viewer like a child. DISCONNECT is one of the most mature efforts I’ve seen tackling heavy issues that are direct results of the internet. Not content with only focusing on one issue, screenwriter Andrew Stern weaves three very different problems into a single film. These being cyberbullying, identity theft and exploitation of minors. DISCONNECT isn’t quite as impactful as it probably should have been, but this film serves as a depressing snapshot of our time.
DISCONNECT revolves around three very different stories that connects a group of strangers in obvious and subtle ways. Ben Boyd, a shy teenager, is contacted on a social network by a girl at his school named Jessica. As Ben opens up to his new friend online, a cruel prank is being played on Ben that could have potentially tragic consequences. Meanwhile, there’s Nina, a reporter for a high-profile TV news station, who’s sick of her fluff stories and investigates the remarkably more disturbing topic of underage pornography rings. She befriends her source, Kyle, and this could lead to potentially complex legal issues in her future. Finally, Cindy and Derek are a couple who have recently gone through a horrible tragedy and become victims of identity theft. Derek, a former soldier, is determined to track down the online criminal who’s driven them into overwhelming debt. These people’s lives, along with some side characters around them, all connect to each other in this complicated and emotionally engaging drama.
DISCONNECT could have easily swerved into exploiting its touchy subjects for cheap clichés, heavy-handed morals from an afterschool special, and manipulative tactics. Instead, the film takes a road less traveled by offering a whole lot of a gray areas about who’s in the right and who’s in the wrong during quite a few different scenes. Though the identity theft story is the least engaging of the bunch, chemistry between Paula Patton and Alexander Skarsgard make it interesting. The teenage pornography ring storyline is compelling for showing the viewer both desperate reporter Nina and teenage runaway Kyle who doesn’t necessarily see his life as a bad one. I wouldn’t have minded seeing a feature based around this sub-plot that has plenty of meat to it. DISCONNECT’s finest hour is in the cyberbullying storyline, which features a surprising set of serious acting chops from Jason Bateman (normally associated with wacky comedies). This is the most depressingly realistic approach to cyberbullying that I’ve ever seen and would have made a phenomenal film by itself, never once giving into the melodramatic over-the-top nature of TV films based around the subject (e.g. 2011’s godawful CYBERBULLY).
The biggest problem have with the film and that others might take issue with is the lack of a satisfying conclusion. The film doesn’t end ambiguously, but instead feels like a few pages of script got lost in production and they decided to only film what they had. Literally, 10 or 20 more minutes of screen-time may have solved this problem. Each story is left unresolved, with only Nina’s tale sporting the most acceptable final scene of the bunch. I get that some may argue DISCONNECT lacks a satisfying finale because it’s representing the “real lives” of these characters, but I wanted a little more and was left thinking that might have been truly fantastic if there was an actual ending to it.
The quick cut to end credits might throw a fair amount of viewers off, but DISCONNECT is still an emotional rollercoaster while it lasts. Though the identity theft story pales in comparison to the others around it, the cyberbullying tale more than makes up for that. Jason Batman truly impresses in his role of a businessman who gets a nasty call to reality when his concerned father instinct takes over. That storyline brought me close to tears in more than one instance. DISCONNECT is definitely not a happy film, it’s a depressing look at the issues that have sprung from technological wonders. This all being said, DISCONNECT is well worth watching!