After recently exploring the Internet’s comic possibilities in “Identity Thief,” Jason Bateman experiments with its tragic potential in the timely and frequently gripping thriller “Disconnect.”
This time Bateman plays a lawyer whose teenage son (Jonah Bobo) is friendless, emotionally closed down and the victim of Internet bullying. It’s just a matter of time and circumstance before the boy attempts to destroy himself.
When an ambitious television reporter (Andrea Riseborough) senses potential in stories of kids who feel intimidated by their online activity, she suddenly becomes a celebrity — especially to a handsome exhibitionist (Max Thieriot) who likes being noticed on the Net.
The script by Andrew Stern carefully plays on fear of technology and a system that fails to follow through on passwords and other apparent guarantees of privacy. The director, Henry-Alex Rubin (who made the Oscar-nominated documentary “Murderball”), contributes a strong sense of pace, though his emphasis on slow motion in the final reel is glaringly clueless.
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It’s left to the actors to make up for the gaffes, and they’re definitely up to the task. Hope Davis and Alexander Skarsgård even seem overqualified for their rather simplistic roles as worried parents.
The adults register their characters’ understandable sense of guilt (Frank Grillo stands out as a detective with a personal grudge), while the teenagers create their own wireless world, apart from the parents and a more traditional sense of community.
Often resembling a 21st-century remake of “The Children’s Hour,” with hints of “Rebel Without a Cause” and other tales of classrooms spiraling out of control, “Disconnect” is most effective in its evocation of repression and alienation on the Web.
“It just sounds so dark,” says one character. Indeed.
John Hartl: email@example.com