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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Review: Disconnect

Do You Know What Your Loved Ones Are Doing Online?

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: April 12, 2013 – U.S.
Rating: R
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Running Time: 115 minutes
Director: Henry Alex Rubin
Writer: Andrew Stern
Cast: Jason Bateman, Hope Davis, Frank Grillo, 
Michael Nyqvist, Paula Patton, Andrea Riseborough, 
Alexander Skarsgård, Max Thieriot, Colin Ford, 
Jonah Bobo, Haley Ramm, Norbert Leo Butz, 
Kasi Lemmons, John Sharian, Aviad Bernstein

People all over the world are living second, secret lives on the Internet. Too many of them – you – are naïve or otherwise ignorant about the perils and pitfalls potentially lurking in the shadows. It's called the web for a reason. Information is left behind casually like breadcrumbs, creating a digital paper trail anyone can follow.

"Disconnect" tells several stories, all with one central theme: behind that glowing screen, danger lurks online. It's one of the best – and most relevant – films of the year.

  • An inexperienced local news reporter, Nina Dunham (Andrea Riseborough), pays to access a "live cam" website and engages with an underage sex worker, Kyle (Max Thieriot), in the hopes of breaking a big story. It isn't long before their "relationship" becomes more involved than either of them anticipated.
  • Two immature 15-year-olds, Jason and Frye (Colin Ford and newcomer Aviad Bernstein), are caught playing a childish prank by fellow classmate Ben Boyd (Jonah Bobo). They get revenge on Ben by creating a fake Facebook profile and pretending to be a girl at school who likes him. Their impersonation quickly spirals into sexting and cyberbullying.
  • A married couple, Cindy and Derek (Paula Patton and Alexander Skarsgård), find themselves the victims of identity theft after she befriends someone in a chatroom and becomes overly trusting. They turn to a former cop, computer expert Mike Dixon (Frank Grillo), for help. His investigation reveals that the perpetrator is a man named Stephen Schumacher (Michael Nyqvist). Derek is an ex-Marine who is used to taking matters into his own hands.
  • Mike is also Jason's father, but their relationship has become "disconnected" over the years. He has no idea what his son is doing to Ben.
  • Ben, meanwhile, has an equally distant relationship with his own dad, Rich (Jason Bateman), a busy lawyer who can't relate to the long-haired, musically-inclined, sullen teenager living under his roof. As the issues between the boys escalate, Rich becomes obsessed with helping his son and uncovering the truth – at the expense of his wife and daughter, Lydia and Abby (Hope Davis and Haley Ramm). 

The performances are all stellar. Everyone brings a raw, natural quality to their work. These characters' emotions, reactions, and facial expressions tell just as much of a story as the dialogue and script. Their desperation is palpable, and that by itself increases the tension. Despite being dominated by computer monitors and phone screens, "Disconnect" is one of the best thrillers in recent memory. That's quite a feat. The credit belongs to its strong acting and great writing.

Throughout the film, various people can be seen texting, chatting, and using Facebook. During these scenes, their words appear on the screen as they're being typed or touched. Jason Bateman's 40-something-year-old character writes clearly, capitalizes properly, and uses punctuation. The teenage boy played by Colin Ford, on the other hand, is much sloppier. He misspells or abbreviates words, and doesn't use periods. And that's different from the kid who plays his best friend. In a lesser movie, everyone's typing style would be the same. "Disconnect" realizes that you can tell a lot about a person by the way they write and communicate online.

It's so easy to "say" things – both good and bad – on the Internet that you never would in real life. Without any face-to-face interaction, the stakes seem nonexistent and the consequences are easily forgotten. It feels anonymous, even though it's anything but. I've been on the web for close to two decades now, and I've run into quite a cast of characters in that time – with some of them literally being characters.

  • The repressed homosexual who once dated transvestite men only because he thought they could pass for women and wouldn't arouse the suspicions of the closed-minded parishioners at his church. He would often send out pictures of his latest "girlfriend." After a litany of "she's hot" responses, I'd say to him privately, "That's a man!" Hey, I saw "The Crying Game" when I was 13, so I know how to identify these things. :)
  • I think "Tammy" saw it too. Imagine everyone's disappointment when the feisty redheaded firebrand they all thought they were flirting chatting with turned out to be a prematurely-balding cowboy. "That's a man!"
  • Two hardcore drug users – possibly dealers – who seem to be constantly high. Their response: "It's not a drug! It's a plant. It's God's natural herb." Right!
  • Someone who calls himself "Dirk." He seems normal otherwise – seems being the key word, because one can never really tell on the Internet.

It's very unlikely that I'll ever run into these types of people in real life. Social circumstances, disparate personalities, and sometimes just plain common sense are probably going to prevent me from gravitating toward those circles that exist outside my comfort zone.

I pray for my Christian friend who isn't comfortable enough with himself to be who he really is. On the other hand, I've often wondered what would possess someone like "Tammy" to create a completely false personality. Does he struggle with gender-identity issues in his own life? Is the "real" persona he revealed yet another fiction? Wherever the truth lies with him or her, it's sad. I sympathize.

But the 'net can be exciting too. I will never be around a drug deal in real life, but thanks to my two stoner buds online, I can feel like I'm in the middle of scoring a dimebag in the worst part of town. Maybe I'm exaggerating a bit – truth be told, they're probably more like "Grandma's Boy" than "Requiem for a Dream" – but my point remains the same.

The beauty of the Internet is being able to connect with such radically different people and find some common ground.

"Disconnect" understands that alluring feeling but focuses on the darker side of it. While online, it's all too easy to disconnect from human emotions and take things too far. It's just as easy to disconnect from the ones you love – the people in your life every day.

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