3 and 1/2 stars out of 4 stars
The title of this movie is perfect. We live in an age where we can connect with almost anyone on the globe we want instantly with multiple devices, yet our collective communication skills have suffered greatly in the process. People type without writing, speak without talking and far more often than most of us suspect, become anonymous social vultures and invisible thieves. In 2013, there are more ways to mess up your life in cyberspace than there are ways to die.
Resisting what must have been a great temptation to overstuff the narrative with every possible virtual danger, writer Andrew Stern and director Henry Alex Rubin instead settle on the three most currently prevalent. There's pay-for-play sex involving minors, identity theft and cyber-bullying, all of which the majority of us have at least some basic level of understanding.
Rubin's follow-up to his 2005 Oscar-nominated documentary "Murderball" has already been slammed by several for employing the same blueprint of other previous "hyperlink" or "multi-linear" films ("Short Cuts," "Syriana," "Crash," "Magnolia," "Nashville" and "Babel") where major characters in one sub-plot show-up as incidental or supporting figures in others. This criticism is valid inasmuch as Rubin chose a method of storytelling others have used previously.
Because this is such a micro-thin, infrequent approach to filmmaking, any movie that uses it will be accused of being a copycat or lacking in original thought. That couldn't be further from the truth. The "Disconnect" naysayers are discounting the film out of hand based on its apropos style while completely ignoring its considerable content and commentary.
Delving into even the most basic details of the plot of "Disconnect" could be a decided disservice to potentially interested audiences and would certainly ruin the many surprises. Even describing the behavioral traits of the dozen or so principal characters would give away too much. In the timeline of humankind, the advent of the Internet and the devices used to navigate it are a mere blip; we really don't know what we don't know about it and that is the filmmakers' point. The technology remains far ahead of most users' ability to understand it.
The best example is the identity theft portion. Certainly without intent and almost assuredly without knowing it, thousands of people have their identity stolen online every day. The sad part -- at least here -- is that it is perpetuated by someone via an online support group for parents that are grieving the deaths of infant children. This is where Stern really shines with his economic explanations of cyber terms "piggy-backing" and "Trojan horse."
Because it is always anonymous and often impossible to detect the source, cyber-bullying is light-years beyond what used to take place face-to-face on schoolyard playgrounds. Simply due to the time they were born, today's preteens are the most adept at discovering the countless hidden cyber crevices and, coupled with the relative assurance of going forever undetected, can become anyone they wish and thus exhibit more misguided bluster and fearless cruelty. The targets of these attacks are generally more gullible, susceptible and malleable than most to begin with and can be pushed over the edge with a modicum level of intelligence or effort.
The online sex sub-plot -- while beginning in cyberspace -- comes to fruition in the real world with traditional broadcast media acting as both the unwitting perpetrator and ultimate victim. With Twitter, Facebook and untold numbers of blogs being updated instantly, the role of the once traditional journalist has been reduced in some circles to an insignificant dinosaur which could lead hungry upstart reporters to perhaps place their ethical priorities on the back-burner for the sake of snaring a juicy and lurid exclusive.
The filmmakers' greatest achievement takes place in the movie's final scenes when the perfect storm of events culminates. What's most impressive is the avoidance of the pat and predictable with each scenario taking sharp, unforeseen left turns. Little is resolved, the answers are few and the fates of most of the characters remain open-ended. In any other film this would be viewed as a monumental jip and one that that shows inferior storytelling acumen but in "Disconnect" it is pure angular and blackly-hued poetry.
We're living in a different world now, boys and girls. The rules aren't just different -- they're being reinvented on us every second. Cyber technology has made our lives move quicker and with greater "efficiency" and even though we get more done in less time, we've gotten more metaphysically winded in the process. The genie just isn't out of the bottle; it has charmed and enveloped us and has no intention of ever relinquishing its quixotic powers. (LD Entertainment)