Disconnect, an ensemble drama directed by Henry Alex Rubin, is sort of like Crash but with technology instead of racism. Not to sell the film short (we all know how I feel about Crash...ok, maybe you don't, but I hate it), but Disconnect's structure is similar to that drama or Babel. We are always on our mobile devices, and the film tries to emphasize how it affects (sometimes dangerously) our daily interactions with one another. The acting from everyone involved is pretty top-notch.
Facebook, Twitter, iPads and Skype be damned!
The first story we are introduced to follows Nina Dunham (Andrea Riseborough), a reporter delving into the underbelly of online porn interaction. She zeroes in on Kyle (a very shirtless Max Thieriot), a charming and underage young thing who performs solo acts via webcam for all the world to see. Kyle lives in a house full of other young performers who specialize in being hot and desperate for cash. Shielding his identity, Nina interviews Kyle, and the piece grabs the attention of CNN. The authorities want to raid and shut down the seedy house, and Nina is confronted to reveal her source.
The least compelling story centers on a young couple, Derek and Cindy Hull (Alexander Skarsgard and Paula Patton), who have their bank accounts hacked and they start losing everything. They recently lost a child and she is emotionally adrift while he busies himself with work and online gambling. After hiring an investigator who specializes in online fraud, they take matters into their own hands when they think they have tracked down the man who is responsible for destroying their lives (played by Michael Nyqvist, from the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy).
The third segment of the film happens to be the most dramatic storyline. Jason (Colin Ford) and Frye (Aviad Bernstein) set their bullying eyes on Ben Boyd (Jonah Bobo), an introverted, long-haired teen who loves writing music. Jason and Frye set up a fake Facebook profile as a girl named Jessica and begin to continually chat with Ben, making him believe that this girl could actually like him. After a few days of harmless conversation, they up the ante and send Ben a fake dirty picture. As the days crawl on, the prank spirals out of control, and Ben attempts to take his own life. While Ben lies in a coma, his father, Rich (Jason Bateman), uses his son's Facebook page to try to put the pieces together of what happened to his son.
The three storylines don't really converge like you might think they will or want them to. They are loosely related. Rich is a lawyer and consults with Nina when the FBI intervenes with her news story, and Jason's father (Frank Grillo) is the investigator that Derek and Cindy hire to look into their fraud case.
The cast as a whole is very strong. Riseborough and Thieriot have good chemistry (doesn't hurt that he is shirtless for most of his role). Bateman rarely gets to step out of his everyman role in comedies, so his subtle performance as a father looking for answers is the Disconnect's standout. There is a scene where he messages Jason (who is pretending to be Jessica) on Facebook and both Bateman and Ford convey so much without saying a word. Rich is terrified that his son will never wake up without knowing how much he loves him, and Jason finally gets to talk to a father figure he isn't afraid of opening up to.
The topic of how social media affects us as a whole might be too broad of a subject matter, but the grounded performances and quick pace make us focus on the characters. Nina and Kyle's story could be its own movie, and the bullying plotline could easily have been melodramatic and preachy. Derek and Cindy's marital and financial woes bog down the movie the most (I feel like Derek's backstory was cut down, and the focus of them overcoming the loss of their child kind of fades away after a while).
Flaws aside, Disconnect is one of the best acted movies of the year. Only if you make sure you turn your phone off and listen to what the movie is trying to say.