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2012 | 115 min | R | 1.85:1



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Theatrical release date

 12 April, 2013

Country of origin

 United States

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Screenshots from Disconnect Blu-ray

Disconnect Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, April 18, 2013

In the interconnected world we live in, dangers are abundant. With so many people exchanging their inner most thoughts and fears, along with all kinds of sensitive information, the potential for catastrophe is great, yet the warning signs remain hazy. “Disconnect” seeks to navigate the divide between machine and humankind, initially setting out to inspect intimate violations brought to life via online communication. It’s a fascinating topic and one of utmost importance in today’s plugged-in society. Unfortunately, director Henry-Alex Rubin doesn’t examine the issues long enough, soon clearing away a promising cautionary tale to sermonize with a heavy, almost suffocating melodramatic approach to close out this crushingly formulaic picture.

Cindy (Paula Patton) and Derek (Alexander Skarsgard) are an estranged couple lost in grief after the death of their infant son. With Derek working out issues with his combat history and the humiliation of his current office job in silence, Cindy turns to chat rooms to express her woe, trusting a sympathetic man (Michael Nyqvist) with private information. When their identity is stolen and their savings depleted, Derek turns to private investigator Mike (Frank Grillo) to find the culprit. Nina (Andrea Riseborough) is an ambitious news reporter hoping to land a major story by cracking an underage internet sex chat ring, cozying up to teen hustler Kyle (Max Thieriot) for information, only to be drawn into the boy’s oily charms. When her plan to use Kyle as a witness for her television piece goes awry, she panics, hoping to protect her future by making sure her tempting source remains unharmed. And lawyer Rich (Jason Bateman) discovers that his teen son (Jonah Bobo) has attempted suicide after Jason (Colin Ford), a classmate and Mike’s frustrated son, orchestrates a plan to lure the boy into a sexting trap using a bogus Facebook identity. Confused and enraged, Rich struggles to communicate with the faux girl, not immediately perceiving that Jason’s using the confessional messaging as therapy.

Scripted by Andrew Stern, “Disconnect” certainly has its heart in the right place. A multi-character voyage in the online unknown, Stern elects the “Crash” structure to sell his lessons and emotional outbursts, keeping the players divided yet bonded together through fringe interactions or, in the case of Rich and Mike, a shared experience of fathering misconduct. The first act introduces the personalities in various stages of disorder, turning to messaging and texts to soothe their lonely souls. Interestingly, Rubin (his first effort since the 2005 documentary “Murderball”) preserves these online conversations, focusing on facial reactions as the exchanges are printed onscreen, leading to a brave amount of silence, creating a screen-based atmosphere of meditation as fates are worked out through furious button mashing. Surveying Cindy’s desperation to connect to anyone out there, Jason’s increasingly repentant cruelty on Facebook, and Nina’s curiosity with such bold sexuality, “Disconnect” finds its footing early as a warning shot concerning the pitfalls of the internet age where everything posted sticks.

Rubin and Stern basically abandon the tension of the early going to contort “Disconnect” into a soap opera with indie film trimmings, including trendy HD cinematography that favors camera quakes and acidic colors. The production seeks to dig into the characters as they embark on horrible, life-changing decisions, but “Disconnect” actually inches further away from reality the deeper these people are dissected. The screenplay passes on a severe extension of authenticity to transform into an open-wound festival where clichés are peppered around the story and unearned sympathies artificially inseminate the final act. Cindy and Derek’s harrowing identity theft subplot turns into a mundane revenge and military purpose story; Nina begins to developing protective feelings for Kyle despite his dodgy overconfidence and her willingness to abuse any opportunity she’s handed (a far more interesting direction of development than the teary one the movie selects); and Rich grows to ignore his understandably unnerved family even more when he attempts to locate his son’s artificial girlfriend. “Disconnect” leaps from provocative to banal in a hurry, greased down with painfully overwrought execution that comes to choke out every promising question of responsibility raised.

Performances are largely unimpressive, though seeing Bateman in such a dour role is quite welcome, proving the gifted performer is capable of much more than playing straight men and smart alecks. Grillo also has a few wonderful scenes as Mike tries to be an invested single father, only to turn his son away with his natural hardness of character. The actors find cracks of doubt the screenplay works feverishly to spackle over, registering the right amount of hopelessness “Disconnect” needs to sells its tapestry of iPad/laptop misery. I wish the film showed more concentration or at least a willingness to attack the booby-trapped internet experience with courage. Unfortunately, Rubin overcooks his vulnerability, rendering the viewing experience frustratingly short-sheeted in the significance department, making online angst a perfect fit for a Lifetime Movie night.

Starring: Jason Bateman, Andrea Riseborough, Alexander Skarsgård, Hope Davis, Frank Grillo, Michael Nyqvist
Director: Henry Alex Rubin

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