Director Henry Alex Rubin's "Disconnect" is a harrowing cautionary tale about the dangers that loom with every computer click. He weaves multiple story lines together with a gripping darkness to show how innocent online activities can have devastating consequences.
Jason Bateman turns in a memorable performance as the father of 10th-grader Ben (Jonah Bobo), whose need to connect in school makes him the perfect patsy for an online prank by some thoughtless fellow students.
Ben is lured into an online relationship with a fake female friend that ends in disaster.
Bateman is compelling as a father on a quest to find out what pushed his son over the edge. During the journey, he discovers some dark truths about himself.
This story piggybacks into a script thread about a couple (Paula Patton, Alexander Skarsgård) who have lost their life savings to a hacker. Their efforts to track down the online thief -- when no one else can help -- forces the couple to look at the problems in their own lives that pushed them to look for solace through computer connections.
Rounding out this Internet traffic tale is the story of an ambitious TV reporter, Nina Dunham (Andrea Riseborough), who digs into the world of online sex without regard for the consequences.
Bateman is the standout, but the movie is loaded with first-rate performances -- even down to a minor supporting role by Haley Ramm as Ben's sister.
It's particularly nice to see Riseborough get a role with such depth after her emotionally flat work in "Oblivion."
Juggling these story lines would have been more difficult had Andrew Stern's script not been so smart and well-designed. None of the story threads ever get shortchanged or overshadowed by the others. It's the beautiful way they are woven together that draws the viewer in and out of each story.
With a different script, Rubin's direction would have been a little disconnecting. His blend of hand-held shots with scenes where the color palette has been sent askew works because this story deals with the immediacy and disconcerting nature of the Internet. Even the use of on-screen dialogue works, especially watching Bateman's gripping performance as he searches for answers through texts and instant messages.
This all goes together to make the film a remarkable bit of work considering "Disconnect" is Rubin's debut as a scripted-film director. His previous works were documentaries, including the equally impressive "Murderball."
"Disconnect" is being sold as a family drama, but it should be looked at as one of the scariest films to come along since the dawn of the Internet Age. There's no way to see this film and not be concerned each time an electronic device is used. That kind of visceral reaction is what makes the film so disturbingly brilliant.
"Disconnect," rated R for sexual content, nudity, drug use, language. Stars Jason Bateman, Hope Davis. Directed by Henry Alex Rubin. Running time: 116 minutes. Grade: A
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.