It’s rare to come across anyone today, even those among your friends, who can hold a proper, meaningful conversation with you, face to face, without looking at their smartphone at least once. Technology has brought people closer, says everyone, but the cynical side of me is thinking the opposite. So what do we do when we are denied attention by someone sitting next to us? We seek “genuine” friendship with someone online. And it’s very much possible that the person you met online might be facing the same problem as you or he/she could be doing this just for time pass or to simply fuck up your life by getting your credit card details or your nude pictures because they think it is super fun.
This disconnect – the lack of genuine human interaction and the problems that arise from it – is what Henry Alex Rubin’s Disconnect deals with. It’s a film that is going to resonate more with regularly active users of the Internet (who doesn’t use it these days?) and there is a chance that it might upset those who have, in the past, gone through the same experiences as some of these characters. Through a hyperlink narrative, it tells a topical story of several people whose lives are turned upside down by the hidden perils of the Internet and belongs in the same league as movies like Crash, Traffic, Syriana and Little Children. As with any of these films, not all of these people meet, but the ones that do, end up transforming each other’s lives significantly.
There is a couple Cindy (Paula Patton) and Derek (Alexander Skarsgard) who become victims of identity theft. He is an ex-army man who now working a desk job. He feels like a loser. We learn that they had lost their first child in an unexplained incident and haven’t fully gotten over it yet. While she is ready to move on and begin anew, he is not. Their relationship is seemingly deteriorating owing mostly to the fact that he doesn’t pay much attention to her needs anymore. Naturally, she finds solace in an anonymous online friend who happens to be in the same support group as she is. This friend knows every single thing that’s been going on in her life.
Running parallel are the stories of a lonely, extremely introverted boy Ben Boyd who is tricked into dating a “girl” online by two mischievous boys from his school, and an ambitious TV reporter Nina (Andrea Riseborough) who coaxes a young male online sex performer to give details on a secret sex ring that recruits willing minors – both girls and boys. Boyd is the son of a smart lawyer (Jason Bateman) who has no time for his children because he is constantly busy. Boyd and his sister, both feeling neglected, can’t stand their parents. Frank Grillo plays the father one of the boys who play this prank on Boyd. He is a former cop-turned-cybercrime consultant and also a widower, and is not seen as an ideal father by his son either.
The movement from one story to another is smooth and organic, with the camera acting like an invisible voyeur sometimes observing things from afar and sometimes going for intimate close-ups. The online conversations appear alongside the characters’ faces on the screen; they sometimes type their exact thoughts but then change their minds and send a different text. It’s something that we all have done at some point. All the actors are strong and convincing. Grillo, who played a cheesy villain Crossbow in the Captain America movies, is surprisingly good as the cybercrime expert unaware of the fact that his own son is a perpetrator – like Michael Douglas’ drug-fighting judge in Traffic who discovers that his own daughter is an addict.