As a default, I am dismissive of people who tell you to kill your television or move to a commune or refuse to vaccinate their children. It's fine to worry about the unintended consequences of technological advances, but it's utterly ridiculous to reject them out of hand because of some baseless fears that they will set humanity back permanently. As such, about 30 minutes in to Disconnect, I was ready to dismiss it altogether as an irrational Luddite screed about the dangers of Facebook and text messages and email on your phone, all wrapped up in a Crash-like construct.
It is not this.
Technology -- social media, cell phones, etc. -- is central to the film, but, to its credit, it is not about technology exactly. Better yet, it does not have a firm opinion on the impact of technology on all our lives, presenting itself instead as a Rorschach test. If you think Facebook portends the downfall of civilization, you will see what you want to see in this film. If you are more rational about the positives and negatives, you are likely to come away with a more even-keeled impression of the proceedings.
Ironically, considering the title, Disconnect tells a series of intertwined stories. There is ambitious TV reporter Nina Dunham (Andrea Riseborough), who, through an informal online relationship with Kyle (Max Thieriot), threatens to bring down an underage pornography ring. There is her lawyer, Rich (Jason Bateman), deals with the tragic fallout of cyber bullying when his teenage son Ben (Jonah Bob0) attempts to take his own life. There is the father of one his son's tormentors Mike (Frank Grillo), an ex-cop now working as a cyber-security expert. And there is the grieving married couple -- Derek (Alexander Skarsgard) and Cindy (Paula Patton) -- who have turned to Mike after having their bank accounts cleaned out by a hacker.
Technology tears these people apart, but just as importantly it brings them together. (As director Henry Alex Rubin, best known for Murderball, said during a Q&A session after the screening I saw, "[these devices] amplify everything.") The most compelling storyline belongs to Bateman. Cyber bullying played a role in his son's suicide attempt, but he also uses Facebook to connect, desperately, with what his son might have been going through. This duality and nuance is what keeps the film from careening off the edge in to alarmist dreck territory.
If only the non-Bateman/Grillo storylines had been more compelling. The Derek-Cindy tale falls almost completely flat as they embark on a misguided chase of the person they think emptied their bank accounts, Skarsgard injecting little realism in to the role of war veteran who has shut himself off emotionally from his wife after the death of their child.
The Andrea Riseborough storyline, meanwhile, felt tired and vaguely insulting. How many women journalists will filmmakers turn in to conniving, morally compromised ladder-climbers before this cliche is retired? There is 40 percent of a good film here and enough of an interesting premise that the other 60 percent, had it been executed well, could have made Disconnect a true classic.
It falls short of that lofty moniker, but that does not mean it isn't worth a look all the same.