A broad-brush for broadband
By Ann Hornaday
Friday, April 19, 2013
The absorbing, if hysterically pitched “Disconnect” is an of-the-moment tragedy of manners, a cautionary tale of the Internet age centered on a roundelay of occasionally intersecting story lines that finally culminate in dramatic individual catharses, each staged with melodramatic, too-tidy overstatement.
If this strikes you as vaguely familiar, you’re right: “Disconnect” is a computer “Crash.”
That “Disconnect” shares such significant DNA with the 2004 Oscar winner is a decidedly good-news, bad-news proposition. Admittedly, screenwriter Andrew Stern and director Henry Alex Rubin have crafted a smart, engaging film that instantly draws viewers into its disparate but tenuously related worlds. There’s the ramshackle, warrenlike house that serves as headquarters for a pornographic Web site specializing in underage performers; the pristine suburban home of an upper-class family whose teenage son is being mercilessly bullied online; and the similarly well-appointed environs of a professional couple who are channeling grief over a recent loss by escaping into virtual poker games and chat rooms.
As “Disconnect” illustrates, the Web has become a mass means of distraction, deception and even destruction, as vulnerable people increasingly share their most intimate secrets, only to be manipulated by the predators who lurk behind every login. It’s difficult to imagine that anyone needs to be reminded of these dangers, but the filmmakers nonetheless succeed in infusing “Disconnect” with credible suspense, despite its often painfully obvious observations about technology and society.
Handsomely shot and judiciously edited, the film benefits from a superlative cast, including Max Thieriot as a teasingly come-hither teen cyber-sex worker named Kyle, and Andrea Riseborough as an ambitious television news reporter who persuades him to help her with an explosive story about Internet sex sites. Jason Bateman is a preoccupied attorney whose son (played with heartbreaking melancholy by Jonah Bobo) embarks on an ill-advised IM flirtation with a contemporary, and Frank Grillo plays a cybersecurity expert who inadvertently propels a couple (Paula Patton and Alexander Skarsgard) to take a case of identity theft into their own hands. (Special mention goes to fashion designer Marc Jacobs, who makes a startlingly effective screen debut as Kyle’s Fagin-esque father figure.)
It comes as no surprise whatsoever when some of these vignettes end in tears, and Rubin loses his heretofore sure footing with “Disconnect’s” climax, an overwrought, slow-mo aria that takes the film from a convincing, atmospheric thriller into eye-roll-inducing soap opera. Still, as a present-day problem picture -- part of a long line of films dealing with everything from urban crime and juvenile delinquency to marijuana and adolescent sex -- “Disconnect” takes its deserved place within a time-honored genre. Even at its most staged and false, the anxieties it conveys are deep, real and worth expressing.
Contains sexual content, some graphic nudity, profanity, violence and drug use--some involving teens.