MRR Review: "Disconnect"

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Strangers, neighbors and colleagues and their stories collide in this riveting dramatic thriller about ordinary people struggling to connect in today's wired world. Starring Jason Bateman, Paula Patton, Alexander Skarsgård, Frank Grillo, Andrea Riseborough, Michael Nyqvist & Max Thieriot.
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MRR Review: "Disconnect"

-- Rating: R (sexual content, some graphic nudity, language, violence, drug use involving teens) Length: 115 minutes
Release Date: April 12, 2013
Directed by: Henry Alex Rubin
Genre: Drama/Thriller

Nearly everyone has a story about how the Internet has helped them in some way, be it meeting a spouse on a dating site, or perhaps finding that dream job. Unfortunately, lots of people also have horror stories about how the Internet nearly destroyed them through identity theft, bullying, or other crimes. "Disconnect" is a film that focuses on the more negative aspects of the digital age by telling three separate stories that are eventually woven together into one theme.

Lawyer Rich Boyd's (Jason Bateman) son Ben (Jonah Bobo) is a very artistic and intelligent young man who doesn't seem to have any friends. One day, his classmates Jason (Colin Ford) and Frye (Aviad Bernstein) decide to create a fake persona online to lure Ben into confiding things about himself. With all the information received, including some nude pictures of Ben, they post it for the whole world to see. Rich is heartbroken at his son's misery, so he takes it upon himself to find out who did this to Ben.

His investigation will eventually lead him to Jason, who confided quite a bit about his real life while disguised as Ben's fake friend. He confesses that he hates his father Mike (Frank Grillo), an ex-cop who has raised him alone since Jason's mother died. Mike is now in IT, where a man named Derek Hull (Alexander Skarsgård) has hired him to investigate how his identity was stolen from him. He and his wife are reeling from the death of their son and they are running out of money because of the thief. They get no help from the cops, who seem disinterested and ill-equipped to deal with a crime of this nature.

Meanwhile, Kyle (Max Thieriot) is a barely-legal teen who performs on webcam for paying clients, including Nina (Andrea Riseborough), who is actually a television reporter hoping to get Kyle to tell his story for her viewers. She soon discovers the website Kyle works for is under investigation for child pornography, a crime that Kyle has nothing to do with. The police try to get her to give up her source from the website, causing her to have a meeting with the station's lawyer, who just so happens to be Rich. With this, all three plot threads are united, which shows how the Web does bring people together, even if it is not under the best of circumstances.

Many a journalist and writer has espoused on how technology has made people lose touch with each other, even as the Internet has brought the world together. Look around in any restaurant, and there are likely to be tables of people who are all on their cell phones or iPads instead of communicating with each other. "Disconnect" expands upon this idea, using real-life situations to put a face to the disconnection that the Web can often cause. All three topics-cyber bullying, Internet-child-pornography rings, and identity theft are issues that could be ripped straight from the headlines. It's easy to read stories about all three crimes and not feel anything, but "Disconnect" doesn't allow viewers to do that because the actors emote enough to really get the audience's empathy.

Speaking of performances, there are quite a few good ones in this film. Bateman is widely known as a comedic actor, having taken turns in funny fare like "Horrible Bosses" and "Arrested Development" on television. It's nice to see him step out of his obvious comfort zone and deliver a performance with no levity to it whatsoever. His deep sorrow over his son's very public humiliation is written all over his face. As his scarred son, Bobo nearly steals the show, giving an emotional and riveting performance that may just have some audience members reaching for the tissues. Patton is another standout for her portrayal of a woman so crushed by her son's death that she can't connect with anyone in any meaningful way outside of an online chat room.

Many will likely compare "Disconnect" with "Crash," the 2006 Oscar winner for Best Picture. There are quite a few similarities, since both films have several stories that are strung together by a common thread that isn't revealed right away. Both films tackle hot-topic issues such as racism in "Crash" and cyber bullies in "Disconnect." The difference here is that the issues of racism and bigotry have been studied in film many times over the years, whereas cyber bullying and even identity theft are relatively new issues in comparison. This is all fresh territory, especially for a director like Henry Alex Rubin, who had only directed documentaries before this. He tackles his first scripted film with guts and flare, which will have viewers hoping he connects with more powerful scripts like this one in the future.

Rating: 3 out of 5