DISCONNECT Home Video Review

Crash dealing with technology. This simple four word description is what I believed Disconnect to be before sitting down and giving it a shot. I liked Crash when it arrived back in 2005. Do I agree with it winning best picture? No, not necessarily, but it was a solid movie nonetheless and it elicited some genuine emotion from me and clearly other audience members throughout the film going community. This piece isn't about Crash though, but what I thought about that film likely informs how I feel about Disconnect because though it is not the carbon copy my expectations believed it to be it certainly has many of the same intentions and goes about accomplishing them in somewhat similar ways. In all honesty, I was engaged in this film from very early on. There are some films in which you embark on and immediately know you aren't ever going to really get into the material this visual interpretation is exploring and yet there is the other end of the spectrum where you become so wrapped up in the events of what is happening to the characters on screen that you hate to see the signals that the film will soon be coming to an end. That latter reaction is what happened with Disconnect. It was a very interesting play because it opens with the storyline that ends up becoming the least resolved, but is the most immediately shocking and gets your attention only to segway into the main title sequence that introduces us to our second set of characters against the backdrop of Awolnation's "Sail". Whether it was due to the use of this familiar yet still powerfully resonant song or simply to the supreme confidence director Henry Alex Rubin (Murderball) and writer Andrew Stern seem to have had in their material there was something immediately gripping and slightly epic about the way the film presented itself and to say the least, I was intrigued. Disconnect is a sprawling film that never loses its footing and digs deep into the human psyche and past the technology that its title suggests is the main cause of the rifts in the relationships documented here. That not only are these tools that are intended to keep us all connected separating actual human contact further, but allowing us to take advantage of one another in the least humane of ways.

Hope Davis, Jason Bateman and Haley Ramm are the Boyd Family dealing with the effects of bullying.
Given that there are so many cast members and plot lines going on here it would presumably be tough to pin down and manage the specific emotions and complexities of the human interactions that come with each scenario, but this is where Disconnect soars and gets things right, breaking down the barrier of what you might expect from a film like this and doing away with those comparisons to Crash. In the three separate vignettes we are introduced first to Max Thierot (Bates Motel) as a teenager who works for a sex cam service and Andrea Riseborough (Oblivion) who is a TV news reporter looking to make a name for herself and seeing Thierot's Kyle as her big ticket story. We are then shown the reclusive and introverted Ben Boyd (Jonah Bobo of Crazy Stupid Love) who starts being picked on by a couple of bullies from his school through facebook. Ben doesn't feel he has anyone to turn to as his sister thinks he's a nerd just like everyone else and his parents (Hope Davis and Jason Bateman) don't show anything close to affection for him. Bateman's Rich is a lawyer who is constantly in contact with someone about work and has lost any semblence of a relationship with his son. A father of one of the bullies at Ben's school as played by Frank Grillo (The Grey) is a widow and retired police officer who now works as a private investigator. Grillo's Mike Dixon is hired by Paula Patton and her husband Alexander Skarsgard to investigate how they were stripped of their finances due to identity theft. This on top of the fact that they have just been through a horrible tragedy and instead of turning to one another they turn to chat rooms and gaming websites to console themselves. Patton's character begins an ongoing conversation online with the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo's Michael Nyqvist, but is it really him who might have taken everything they had?

You see how technology is weaved into each of these stories whether it be with sex chat rooms, social media where a whole new level of cruel bullying can take place and where identities are so easily stolen, but these aspects never become the main focus of the stories, but instead are kept as a necessity to the cause of the way these people feel. To have the ability to make your characters shine through and emote the message your movie is trying to make instead of using them as pawns to make that point is a goal not every director can accomplish. Sure, you can read what is on the page and place that on the screen by setting it up and capturing it, but more than just transferring there has to be growth in how each aspect of the film is dealt with and more than anything Rubin, handling his first narrative piece, was able to successfully gather a cast that would turn the dialogue and descriptions on the page into real, functioning people who are naturally gripping. The cast is up to this task as each of the individual stories features plenty of tense moments that are drenched in desperation and pain and we feel we are right there in the moment with them. Sometimes it is difficult, beyond simply making your point in a naturalistic light, to also convey the real depth of emotions your characters are going through and why they feel the way they do. Even if you are to show what they are going through the audience might not understand or relate to how these people are choosing to deal with that situation yet Rubin and his actors are able to convey this almost better than any other film I've seen this year. There are definitely kudos to be given to writer Stern for crafting such impacting stories with layers beyond the superficial facade that this world of tweets, chat rooms, and status updates has provided us, but without the performers to make them feel real and genuine and add true profundity to their situations we would not have the emotional connections we garner with these characters and thus there would be little that was affecting about the film. If there was one thing I took away from viewing Disconnect though it was the intimate yet complex way in which we were able to see these characters storylines unfold, overlap, and culminate in a way that was not only articulate and revealing, but also extremely poignant.

The Hulls (Alexander Skarsgard and Paula Patton) hire detective Mike Dixon (Frank Grillo)
after having their identities are stolen.
Though Bateman's character doesn't come into the fold until later into the film he gives the most emotionally charged and surprising performance given his resume is made up of broad and sometimes gaudy comedies. I wondered how much he might be able to stretch himself here, but it turns out, the guy has a real talent for dramatic material and proves, as many a comedian before him, that he is more capable than most at diving into the truths of despair and a tortured psyche. As a father who allowed himself to get so far away from his son that he finds it revelatory to find out what he likes to do for fun, Bateman shows not so much through the dialogue he's given to speak, but with his mannerisms and facial expressions that he understands the facts that he will never be able to go back and get that time with his son again, those moments in the crucial years of his development that were left to other influences where he was otherwise absent. It is clear that these realizations kill Bateman's Rich Boyd and he only hopes that doing his best to rectify what takes place with his son might somehow bring them closer and ease his pain in facing these regrets. That Bateman conveys this as only a single character of an arguable eight-person lead film with his story being only one of three truly says something for his performance. That is not to discount his co-stars either as both Alexander Skarsgard and Paula Patton give very open, raw showings as a couple in the midst of tragedy and struggling to hold themselves together let alone their marriage. I haven't watched True Blood, but Skarsgard has impressed with his feature choices (Melancholia, The East) and does fine enough work here that I look forward to seeing what he does when he has more availability for film. Despite Riseborough and Thierot having the most scandalous storyline I found their execution to be the least interesting and would have much rather spent more time with the more emotionally resonant conflicts concerning the aforementioned characters. Thus, the only problem with Disconnect being that audience members may want to spend more time with certain stories over one of the others, but I could hardly imagine that being a bad problem to have as it stands to show that Rubin knows how to manage several elements at once and make them work to the point viewers walk away truly affected.