By Roger Thomas
CNHI News Service
Friday, June 28, 2013 — I should start at the end. Many films succeed for the first hour and half, only to collapse with a less than satisfying climax. Others meander along and then stun us with an unexpected last chapter that redeems all that has transpired before the last reel.
“Disconnect,” an ensemble story focusing on our electronic communication culture, is a film that captivated me from beginning to end, but ultimately startled me with the truth of the courageous ending. Had the film ended any other way, I believe it would have been much less collectively, and the climax could have been ruined by clichés and sentimentally trite.
“Disconnect” tells several stories about people who depend on cellphones, pads, laptops, chat rooms, social websites, texting, emailing, and various other forms of connection which define much of our time in modern America. Most of us are aware that others also use these tools, the ones we use for work, communication or our own amusement, in more sordid ways. In the midst of all these various practices of sharing information, this film succeeds in drawing the audience into caring, not just for the victims of the story, but also feeling compassion for those who perpetrate much of the sorrow and misery on screen.
“Disconnect” is a film in the same vein as “Traffic” and “Crash.” “Traffic” and “Crash” were both Best Picture Oscar nominees (“Traffic” won Best Director but lost Best Picture; “Crash” won Best Picture but lost Best Director.) As “Traffic” deals with various issues of the current drug culture, and “Crash” offers examples of racism in America, “Disconnect” uses multiple stories to consider the hazards of cyber communications and the effects upon several individuals and families.
Screenwriter Stephen Gaghan “Traffic” and writer/director Paul Haggis, along with writer Bobby Moresco “Crash”, won Oscars for their sweeping ensemble screenplays. Both of those films have scripts that are a bit more literate and layered, but “Disconnect” succeeds in telling four separate compelling stories that intertwine with one another and build to a moment that is an emotional punch in the gut. It is a bit early to count any film as a contender in the Oscar race, but “Crash” won the big prize after opening in May of 2005. So anything can happen.
“Disconnect” also shares another trait with “Traffic” and “Crash”: a large and gifted cast. Jason Bateman, best known for comedies such as “Identity Thief,” “Horrible Bosses” and the sitcom “Arrested Development,” has received much praise for his dramatic turn as a father trying to understand his young son’s choices. Frank Grillo, “End of Watch,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” plays another father struggling to raise his teenage son alone. Colin Ford, “We Bought a Zoo,” plays Grillo’s son, the character making the greatest transition in the story, aptly handled by young Ford.
“True Blood’s” Alexander Skarsgard and “Bates Motel’s” Max Thieriot also have pivotal roles in two distinct stories in the film.
In recommending the film, I would offer a word of caution. This is a very harsh film dealing with serious issues. Both the language and the problems explored are not appropriate for anyone under 17. Adults should also be cautioned that this film often depicts the darker side of the cyber world. It is sad, disturbing and unnerving all at once. This is not a feel-good movie; but as I often say, “All well-made movies, regardless of subject matter, are exhilarating works of art.”
“Disconnect” tells strong stories, packs deep emotion, creates authentic characters, and poses serious questions without coming off as preachy, condemning or condoning. As we move through the fifth month of 2013, “Disconnect” is currently the best film I have seen this year.
Roger Thomas reviews films for The Stanly News & Press and thesnaponline.com.