In a world where you can talk to someone on the other side of the planet with a few strokes on a computer, why is it so difficult to take time to speak to the person in front of you?
That’s the question Disconnect poses in three intertwining stories about the distance created by technology. Conclusion: Lonely people would rather confess their secrets to strangers than form connections to the people in their lives.
Teen boys Jason (Colin Ford) and Frye (Aviad Bernstein) pick on loner classmate Ben (Jonah Bobo) by inventing a fake female Facebook profile. Ben is thrilled to meet a kindred spirit, while Jason and Frye find it hilarious to catfish their classmate. Ben’s parents are well meaning, but they barely know the names of Ben’s friends and don’t notice that their son has an Internet love. Frye hopes to humiliate Ben, but Jason feels sympathy with his already ostracized victim.
Jason’s dad, Mike (Frank Grillo), is a former cyber-crimes police officer who retired when his wife died. Mike makes a living tracking down identity thieves as a private investigator. His current case involves Derek and Cindy Hull (Alexander Skarsgård and Paula Patton), whose identities have been stolen and bank accounts emptied by an online scammer. When Mike offers the couple a full assessment of their recent online activity, the Hulls are forced to confront uncomfortable truths about one another.
Reporter Nina (Andrea Riseborough) is looking for a juicy story when she stumbles upon an online business that features young men and women with webcams willing to perform sex acts for presents. She befriends young sex worker Kyle (Max Thieriot), who offers her an interview and an insider view of this Internet scam. Nina worries that Kyle’s line of work will destroy him.
Will any of these people find the courage to unplug and make a real connection? I’ll tweet a spoiler later.
Disconnect is a fascinating look at the easy detachment offered by our world of technology. Director Henry Alex Rubin (Murderball) is excellent at layering technology throughout the movie. Not a scene goes by without cell phones buzzing, texts ticking away or Facebooks updating. It’s a disturbing but ultimately true observation of our technophile culture. Conversations are stilted and interrupted as people check their phones or laptops.
Rubin makes some decent points, but Disconnect has a tendency to melodrama. Like Academy Award-winning best picture Crash, Disconnect spirals interesting dramatic setups into ridiculous outcomes. Owning a smartphone or a Facebook account does not always result in gunplay, suicides and beatings, or no one would be left to watch the movie.
Still, performances keep Disconnect watchable. Jason Bateman, for one, is a standout as Ben’s disengaged father, who finally gets to know and appreciate his son by looking at his Facebook page.
Disconnect is an important movie, especially for the generation that can’t go five minutes without looking at a screen. Putting down phones, iPads or computers to go stare at a movie screen isn’t exactly a great way of making personal connections. So I suggest going to the movie with your family. Afterward, keep your phones off and talk about the movie before you review it on Facebook or Twitter. But don’t forget to like this review.