If you've seen Best Picture-winner 'Crash,' then you know exactly what you're in for with 'Disconnect' – a big ensemble of different dramatic stories that all tie together by the end. Being a fan of 'Crash,' I really wanted to like 'Disconnect,' but the quality just isn't there. If you replace the racist theme with the selfishness of people who spend way too much time with technology, strip away all likeable characters, the moral slug-in-the-gut, and any emotional attachment, you'll get 'Disconnect.'
There are three big stories that weave together to create 'Disconnect.' One is about an outcast teenager who falls victim to cyber bullying; another is about an up-and-coming reporter who's trying to bring to light an illegal online pornography ring involving runaway teenagers; and the other is about a broken married couple whose identities are stolen.
It all begins with a loner named Ben (Jonah Bobo). Two bullies (Colin Ford and Aviad Bernstein) spot him in a shopping mall and start a seemingly innocent prank on him: they find Ben on Facebook, create a fake female profile and reach out to him as if this girl was interested him. Of course, they take the prank way too far and emotion-driven Ben can't handle it. His parents (Jason Bateman and Hope Davis) get involved and begin the hunt to find out who's behind the prank Facebook profile.
Nina (Andrea Riseborough, who we recently saw go mainstream in 'Oblivion') works the news desk and reports from the field for a local television channel. Obviously lonely, she comes across an adult web site that features young men and women, some still in their teens, performing specific sexual acts via webcam. The site's visitors log in, see the current group of "talent" available, and initiate a one-on-one session with them. By typing to the on-screen talent, the visitor can have a customized online sexual experience. We're never told exactly why Nina visits the site, as her intent is never sexual – she just wants to talk. Nina gets the green light from her boss to do a story on these kids. After making friends with one (Max Thieriot), she tries convincing him to do an anonymous interview for the news.
From the moment we meet Cindy (Paula Patton) and Derek Hull (Alexander Skarsgård), it shows that something isn't right in their marriage. They never speak. Derek spends all of his time working; Cindy fills the void with chat rooms. We quickly learn that they are grieving the loss of a child, only in two separate manners. When their identities are stolen online and their bank accounts drained, the couple hits rock bottom and hires a cyber detective to help find the thief responsible.
These stories aren't bad. The ways that they connect are good enough. But the film as a whole doesn't really work. 'Crash' served a purpose; it actually said something. 'Disconnect' has a significant social relevance – the overuse of technology – but it never says a thing. With the title "Disconnect," you'd expect it to make a statement about the current social situation, but it doesn't. Without giving anything away, this isn't a movie about disconnecting or about people addicted to technology (which is how it's portrayed), it's ultimately about actions and reactions, how we treat others. The technological disconnect from the title is just something the makes way for the more prominent theme of actions and reactions. 'Disconnect' is a social commentary film that doesn't have anything to say.
'Disconnect' isn't horrible, but it's far from being the great film that it has the potential to be. All of the elements necessary for greatness are there, but the final product is so unfocused that it hardly makes the cinematic journey worthwhile.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Lionsgate has placed 'Disconnect' on a Region A BD-50 in a single-disc blue Elite keepcase. Included is a redemption code for an Ultraviolet copy of the film. The keepcase slides vertically into a cardboard keepcase that features identical artwork as the cover art. Upon inserting the disc, there are forced FBI warnings, a Lionsgate vanity reel and a commentary disclaimer, followed by an Epix commercial and trailers for 'Black Rock,' 'Now You See Me,' 'Crash' and 'Mud.'
If I hadn't checked to see that the actual Blu-ray was a 50-gig or 25-gig disc, based on the video quality, I would have assumed that 'Disconnect' was housed on a BD-25 - but it's not. This 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode is full of flaws that are typically only found on discs one-size-too-small.
'Disconnect' is full of banding – even in the most random of settings. Bright rooms with hardly any fading colors or shadowing will still feature waves of bands. This is a frequent problem that arises too often. The shooting style goes for a gritty look that mutes colors, blindly blasts bright lights and turns darkness into consuming pitch blacks. Oddly, the bands most commonly appear in the bright settings and not in the dark ones (although the dark settings do contain the elements that could warrant bands) – but don't assume that the dark settings are safe; crushing occurs from time to time. Some scenes feature great colors, but the filters used to give 'Disconnect' the gritty look typically chews them up.
There are a great amount of details to be seen in 'Disconnect' – clothing textures, fine hairs, facial pores, etc. - but, again, the film's style has the ability to erode them. Specifically, the blown-out dark and bright scenes are lacking in finer details. Shot on digital Red cameras, the video quality of 'Disconnect' is a let-down.
'Disconnect' carries a decent but could-be-better 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. It's not the type of film to carry any wowing demo-worthy effects, but it does a good-enough and fitting job.
Mostly set in unimpressive settings, the audio mix is typically focused on environmental background sounds. The slightly echoey chit-chat of a high school cafeteria rings through all the channels. The beeping and compressing sounds of a hospital room naturally fill the space. The thumping club-like atmosphere of a teenage porn house ring out and change in clarity and intensity as we walk through the house, getting farther and farther away from the source. My only complaint regarding these environment-enhancing effects is that in order to fully enjoy them, you have to turn up the master volume slightly higher than comfortable. A few instances of decent imaging pop up here and there – passing traffic and so on – but nothing spectacular.
The vocal track is clear, but its audibility has the tendency to be trumped by the music. Like the effects, the voice mixing is underwhelming. On top of that, the voices also tend to fall flat. There's a lack of dynamics caused by a front-heavy vocal mix.
If you're under the impression that 'Disconnect' has the potential of being the next 'Crash,' don't get your hopes up. It feels like a preachy film that doesn't exactly know what it's preaching. Despite the stories and characters being just fine, the message and morals never gel. Forgive the pun, but the movie is so unfocused that it causes a major disconnect with the audience. The video and audio qualities are decent, but not as strong as they should be. Repetitious small flaws bring it down. A few special features are included, the director commentary being the best of them, but the entire package could definitely be better. All around, I expected 'Disconnect' to be much better than it is. After having seen it, I can say that it's definitely nothing to get excited about.