Opens Fri., April 19 at Sundance Cinemas and Lincoln Square. Rated R. 115 minutes.
Disconnect would like you to understand that we live in a world of social media, smartphones, and this thing called the Internet, which connects people but also, worryingly, seduces them.
What’s that? You say you already knew about these things, perhaps even use them yourself? Well, now, that could be a serious impediment to believing in this movie, which delivers its earnest warnings in overlapping, Crash-like stories.
We begin with a TV reporter (up-and-coming somebody Andrea Riseborough, also on view in Oblivion this Friday) making contact with a runaway teenager (Max Thieriot) who works for an online sex operation. The reporter grows too close to her story, drunk on the fantasy of how much attention she’ll get from the networks.
There’s also a distractingly handsome young couple (Paula Patton, Alexander Skarsgård), their finances messed up by an online identity thief, who decide to take vigilante action against a possible suspect in the case. And we meet a preoccupied lawyer (Jason Bateman) whose neglected son (Jonah Bobo) is cyber-hoaxed at school; as it happens, the hoaxer isn’t diabolical but a lonely kid bullied by his father (Frank Grillo, terrific as the malcontent in The Grey).
Playing out these stories, director Henry Alex Rubin is careful to include opportunities for characters to peck at their keyboards in extended conversations, their words frequently floating onscreen. For all that effort, the movie doesn’t especially convey why such a conversation might be seductive, or how waiting for a reply might be addictive—it’s mostly interested in reminding you that this is all disconnecting us from one another.
While the overall hyperlinked narrative of writer Andrew Stern is too constricting by far, some sequences are compelling. The obsessiveness of the couple’s focus on the identity thief takes on a certain force, though it might have been more intriguing without their backloaded histories of past trauma. Michael Nyqvist gives the cyber-suspect more interest in his limited screen time than most of the other actors manage. He’s the Swedish actor from the original Girl With a Dragon Tattoo pictures, and he has “next Christoph Waltz” possibilities—if he could get a couple of decent roles down the line.
The most interesting casting is Bateman, although his expert timing and legit dramatic chops are used here in scattered moments. But then that’s the nature of this kind of picture: We’re meant to be awed by its design, the interlocking pieces, the way all the threads build to a single climactic moment. Which seems overdetermined for a movie about how our lack of connectedness is keeping us apart.