Thursday, September 19, 2013

Movie Review: Disconnect

Directed by: Henry Alex Rubin.
Written by: Andrew Stern.
Starring: Jason Bateman (Rich Boyd), Hope Davis (Lydia Boyd), Frank Grillo (Mike Dixon), Michael Nyqvist (Stephen Schumacher), Paula Patton (Cindy Hull), Andrea Riseborough (Nina Dunham), Alexander Skarsgård (Derek Hull), Max Thieriot (Kyle), Colin Ford (Jason Dixon), Jonah Bobo (Ben Boyd), Haley Ramm (Abby Boyd), Norbert Leo Butz (Peter), Kasi Lemmons (Roberta Washington), John Sharian (Ross Lynd), Aviad Bernstein (Frye).

Disconnect is the type of bad movie that happens whenever filmmakers are more interested in making a larger point about society than they are in grounding their story in things such as plot and character. Some have described Disconnect as doing for computers and the internet what Paul Haggis’ Oscar winning Crash did for racism. The comparison is not unfair – but as flawed as Haggis’ film was, it was still a decent film, anchored by some excellent performances. The entirety of Disconnect plays like the worst moments of Crash – where Haggis lays on his points that everyone is racist way too thickly for them to seem believable.

The film tells three separate stories (that sometimes overlap) about people whose lives are destroyed by the internet. The best involves a teenage loner, Ben (Jonah Bobo) who makes the innocent mistake of pissing off two classmates – Jason (Colin Ford) and Frye (Aviad Bernstein). They decide to play a cruel joke on Ben, by inventing a girl and chatting with him online – eventually escalating things by sending him a naked picture, and asking for one in return – which he unwisely does, resulting in predictably horribly things to happen. This is when Ben’s father Rich (Jason Bateman) starts looking into what happened – and realizing he didn’t really know his own son.

The second story involves Nina Dunam (Andrea Riseborough) as an enterprising local reporter, tired of doing fluff pieces, who decides she wants to expose the seedy underbelly of porn chat rooms. She goes online, and befriends the sweetly dim Kyle (Max Thieriot), who is amazed that she doesn’t want him to do anything sexual – just to talk. She crosses ethical guidelines that even a novice journalist would understand you shouldn’t cross, but she gets the story she is after. But once again, this has disastrous results for all involved.

Then there’s the story of Derek and Cindy (Alexander Skarsgard and Paula Patton) as a married couple still reeling by the death of their child. He retreats into online gambling, she into grief support chat rooms because her husband won’t talk to her. When their identities are stolen, and bank accounts drained, they hire Mike (Frank Grillo) – father of one of the two bullies – find out who did it, in part because the police can do nothing without concrete proof, and in part because Derek wants vengeance.

The belabored point of the movie is evident from its title – that the interview, a tool that is said to help people connect with others, really isolates us more. We don’t talk to the people around us, and instead go online to seek other likeminded people – or to find companionship or sex. This is an easy point to make, but not an invalid one. I just wish Disconnect wasn’t so preachy about it.

The only story that comes close to working is the cyber bulling one. What happens in it is all too common an occurrence to our society, and I appreciated the way it handled one of the bullies – they don’t make him into a monster, but a kid who acts without thinking, and then regrets what he did. We all know that people will do things online that they would never do in person – the anonymity of the internet makes that far too easy. Still, this segment gets lost in too many scenes of Jason Bateman looking forlornly at the screen, as each new revelation underlines the fact he didn’t know his son. Bateman seems to be follow the Robin Williams rule that states when a comedic actor does a serious role, he needs to grow a beard. Unfortunately, that’s about all he does.

The other two plot lines strain credibility from the outset. No one involved with the journalist/cybersex story seems to have any idea how either of those things actually work. The complexity of one of the bullies is entirely absent from the portrayal of Kyle’s pimp – who is greasy and disgusting from the outset. That anyone would be as naïve as every character in this part of the movie just doesn’t ring true. The final segment never really gels – partly because Alexander Skarsgaard isn’t given much to do but stare blankly and Patton isn’t given much to do but look concerned – but mainly because little thought seemed to go into this part to begin with.

Disconnect is what happens when filmmakers think they are making something important – and rush into it, without ever really thinking through the film. Yes, you could make a good movie about the evils of the internet. But Disconnect is not that movie.

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