Thursday, September 12, 2013

"Disconnect" Delivers Criticism to Our Tech-Based Life with Honesty


Internet has become our second life. We are currently wired in a new world where to know about something you prefer doing a Google search to finding a book about it in the library. Students prefer knowing about the new boy in the classroom from Facebook to greeting him directly. The advancement of technology has entirely changed the way we live and—most noticeably—the way we interact to each other. “Disconnect” rounds them up, as it proposes some of the most familiar issues in our current internet-based social life.

We meet Ben Boyd (Jonah Bobo), a son of a busy, hard-working dad Rich Boyd (Jason Bateman) and also a shy school boy who is cyber-bullied via Facebook. The bullier is Jason Dixon (Colin Ford), his schoolmate who is also a son of a highly disciplined ex-cop Mike Dixon (Frank Grillo). We also have Nina Dunham (Andrea Riseborough), a reporter who successfully interviews Kyle (Max Thieriot), a teenage performer of an adult-only website, for a TV news program. While Nina tries to convince Kyle that the interview will be perfectly harmless for him, they build an unlikely relationship. In another piece of life, there are Derek Hull (Alexander SkarsgÄrd) and Cindy Hull (Paula Patton), who were once a happy couple. But after the death of their baby, Derek becomes very attached to his work while Cindy finds herself so hard to move on. The two finally rebuild their relationship after they become a victim of an online financial transaction crime.

Cindy Hull (Paula Patton) has her baby dead and finds a way to relieve her grief by chatting in a help group website.

There will be a lot of technology devices in “Disconnect” like iPad, iPhone, or laptops with Facebook chats—even the chat appears on-screen with a sleek text animation. Director Henry Alex Rubin and screenwriter Andrew Stern made a film whose stories are so close to us, that it looks like a dramatized documentary. It honestly captures how the technology affects every side of our life, and that is the reason of why it is easy for viewers to be emotionally involved with these technology-related life drama. We are familiar with cyber-bully, online banking, adult website, and Facebook chat, and “Disconnect”—with the low-tone, blurry, and shaky camera works—successfully re-describes it from a more humane point of view. The result is a film that might not be very ground-breaking but successfully delivers criticism to ourselves as technology users.

The three stories in "Disconnect" are put together in the way the multi-plot stories in “21 Grams” or “Crash” wrapped: they are alternately told and in the end they are linked to each other. I admit that the three stories are not similarly powerful. The “cyber-bully” fragment is the most interesting for me, because not only the issue is something widely known but also it scopes more of an emotional dad-son relationship—which is also not something particularly fresh in our daily life. The “sex website” fragment might not be quite coherent with the overall “tech and communication” theme but the chemistry between the two performers are very supportive to make it more interesting. The “online phishing” story starts with a quite promising premise, but in the end it is not successful to summarize the social-versus-technology conflict.

Nina Dunham (Andrea Riseborough) and Kyle (Max Thieriot) enter an unlikely relationship after they meeting in an adult-only website.

Henry Alex Rubin and Andrew Stern starts off a safe ground to describe everything revolves around our tech-based life very carefully, and soon it develops into something intriguing until the middle part. But I find that the conclusion in the end is not as heart-pleasing as I expected, because it fails to crystallize important materials that have been gathered from the beginning. We have an interesting outlook to our tech-based social life, but in the end, “Disconnect” redefines itself as merely a drama that happens to relate to technology thingy. There are not enough real coherence about the effect of technology to our social life that can be pulled out of the conclusion. Doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy, though. In fact, I really enjoy the film from the beginning till the end, but I just think that the focus of the film shifts subtly from a tech-based drama to simply a mainstream drama along the way.

And another downside of “Disconnect” is the cast. With the three different stories, I think Rubin is not 100% successful in handling the big ensemble cast. It is obviously seen that some important roles are not maximally used. Like Lydia Boyd (Hope Davis), Rich Boyd’s wife, is considered an important role but not given enough amount of attention. Or Stephen Schumacher (Michael Nyqvist), whose appearance near the ending does not add up anything significant to the story’s emotion. But beyond that, appreciation is given to Jonah Bobo and Colin Ford. Duet Andrea Riseborough and Max Thieriot make the “sex website” fragment—which is actually out of the “tech-based life” context—becomes more interesting. And Jason Bateman, plus Frank Grillo, has successfully delivered a good portrayal of dads with all their dilemma between work and family.

Ben Boyd (Jonah Bobo) is a shy school boy who happens to get approached by a random girl in Facebook.

Thanks to the amazing score and the interesting cinematography that makes this story feels so much closer to us. Without being judgmental, “Disconnect” tries to put that somehow, in several aspects of our life, we have to do things conventionally. This is a work of fiction with a passion to today’s real social life. A must-watch to all netizens.

Disconnect3.5 out of 5 stars

 ▲  Nice capture of technology effects to our life, interesting cinematography and score, the story closeness to our life
 ▼  Not a perfect handling of ensemble cast, focus shift near the ending

DISCONNECT | COUNTRY USA YEAR 2012 RATING Rated R for sexual content, some graphic nudity, language, violence and drug use - some involving teens RUNTIME 115 min GENRE Drama, Thriller CAST Jonah Bobo, Jason Bateman, Frank Grillo, Paula Patton, Andrea Riseborough WRITER Andrew Stern DIRECTOR Henry Alex Rubin MORE INFO


  1. Hehe i'm about to post this review tomorrow :)
    I noticed there's a subtle link between the bullying story to the internet fraud one, but i can not find a link between the adult website one with the other two? care to enlighten me? :)
    anyway, interesting write up as always Akbar :D

    1. [SPOILER]
      Remember when Nina was interrogated by the FBI? Rich Boyd is the law person that protects her.

      Thank you! :D

    2. ooh i totally forget about that part! haha! good memory akbar!

  2. Great review Akbar! This is quite an efficient drama about the danger of being overly 'wired' that we've become disconnected. I was very impressed by Andrea Riseborough, didn't realize she was a Brit until after!

    1. Yep, I think I haven't seen any drama concerning about this theme before, and "Disconnect" sums it up very well. Oh I noticed Andrea Riseborough since "Oblivion" and she's lovely. LOL.

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