Disconnect Review [2013 MSPIFF]

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Director Henry-Alex Rubin‘s latest drama Disconnect is a slam dunk character ensemble that unfolds in spectacular fashion, constantly leaving you on the edge of your seat, waiting to find out what happens next. Disconnect uses its layered approach to peel back at the importance social media has on our society and how everyone wields this uncontrollable power in the palm of their hands with the simple click of a button on a keyboard or the pressing of the screen on a smartphone. Disconnect fuses social media into the storytelling process while also shedding some light on just how important it is to understand the consequences that come from the simplest actions.

Ben Boyd (Jonah Bobo) is a shy and misunderstood teenager that’s trying his best to cope with the world around him. His father (Jason Bateman) doesn’t quite understand him and his sister rarely goes out of her way to show that she cares about him. Things get worse when he enters the schoolyard, because he has virtually no friends, aside from a new girl that he’s met on Facebook. This girl is being controlled by two prankster classmates that are simply looking to mess around with Ben as a way of a practical joke. Things go too far.

Derek (Alexander Skarsgård) and his wife (Paula Patton) are having difficulty communicating with each other after losing their child. Derek chooses to spend as much time away from home as possible, in hopes of not having to look at his wife in the face and finally confront his emotions, while she spends most of her time on an online chat site, chatting with other people that have had a similar life-changing event occur. The more the two spend away from each other and online or in the presence of others the more they grow distant from each other emotionally.

Their bank account has been hacked and taken over, which leads them to hire a private detective (Frank Grillo) to sift through their personal files and documents in order to track down the cyber criminal. The more he digs the more he finds out about their damaged past and not-too-bright future.

Nina (Andrea Riseborough) is a lonely reporter looking for the next hot story to kick-start her career. She finds the story in the form of a young teenager (Max Thieriot) that makes a living by posting live chat videos online, collecting a wage by stripping on camera for those willing to pay. Nina is desperate and throws most normal formalities out the window in exchange for a story that might change her life both professionally and personally. What she doesn’t realize is that you can’t simply change one life without effecting the lives of many others.

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Henry-Alex Rubin‘s Disconnect isn’t an easy film to discuss or review, because of how complexly structured the film’s story is and because of how many characters Rubin is presenting to us at one given time. Each and every character gets their shining moments on screen, often crossing paths with another character from another side-story at some point in time.

Disconnect is impressive in the way that it free-flows between stories without ever creating confusion or lack of focus. Each and every story is well thought out and fully detailed, leaving you with three or four films housed inside of one massive film. This is great, because Disconnect never feels lengthy or sloppily structured and instead moves by like a real-life event unfolding in front of your eyes.

Rubin tackles social media head on, showing just how powerful the new-wave of communication is and also how deadly it can be in the hands of people that don’t truly understand it. Facebook and Twitter may seem like simple tools to keep tabs on you and your friends, but the reality is that both websites have the ability to change lives at the click of a single button.

And Rubin doesn’t just play with that idea; he fully explores each and every outcome. He also uses on-screen messages/texts to unveil specific scenes, which helps build tension in an unconventional way, while also sticking with the themes of social media and how much everyone seems to be rooted into it.

The film also touches up heavily on how much disconnect (go figure?) is actually formed when social media is brought into the picture. The more and more you think that you’re constantly connected with your friends and family via Facebook or texting the more you create a bridging gap of communication. People can’t read other peoples true feelings or emotions over a tweet or email. Sometimes exposing your “real life” feelings over the internet can often lead to misleading outcomes or situations that one never really wanted to get themselves into in the first place.

It’s a brilliant idea that Rubin and writer Andrew Stern explore with the utmost detail and respect.

Disconnect is strung together by a whole bunch of good performances. Jason Bateman might get the top bill, but he’s certainly not the film’s only best kept secret. He does a great job playing strongly against type, which is a rare occurrence, but he also joined by the likes of Frank Grillo, Paula Patton, Andrea Riseborough and so many more talented performances that help keep the film’s all-over-the-map story at bay.

I don’t mean that in a bad way. The film’s massively constructed story is one of the main reasons why it sticks out above many other dramas that attempt to tell so many stories with such a strong list of actors and actresses. Other directors would have lost focus or burnt themselves out early focusing on one story more than the rest, but Rubin wisely weaves in between all of the film’s stories, without ever making it feel confusing or scrambled.

The only thing holding Disconnect back from being a perfect film is the ending. It leaves ends a little too loose for my tastes, but some might appreciate the film’s open-ended approach. It didn’t sit well with me the first time around, but perhaps I’ll grow to like Rubin’s ending over time, because it really does offer up a more realistic conclusion for this sort of story, without being a complete downer.

Disconnect is quite the powerful film; one that will have you looking at social media in an entirely different light from now on. Henry-Alex Rubin constructs such a large story without ever robbing it of its intimate approach and extremely relatable subject matter. Disconnect is something that all audiences should seek out and watch, especially the younger generations that have grown up on social media. I think the film will offer a lesson or two when it comes to cause and effect and how one simple action can affect the lives of many around you.

Disconnect – 9/10

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