Ladies and gentleman, behold the untold horrors of... cellphone radiation and how it effects your health in this "intense" documentary. Seriously though, you know that the even more obscure upcoming documentary that is also known as "Disconnect" is going to go through all kinds of name troubles so that it doesn't get confused with this feature film, seeing as how a documentary about cell phone radiation can't be too much less exciting than this. No, this film isn't that limp, but hey, it's hard to not expect limitations in thrills when it comes to an independent drama...tic thriller that deals with identity theft, teenaged boys impersonating a teenaged girl, and underage male stripping. Jeez, actually, come to think of it, this film sounds kind of hardcore, and it's about people nowadays getting way too caught up in technical communications, so I'm kind of on board with this project. I think it's safe to say that this film was destined to have some fair amount of intrigue, because it got Jason Bateman to grow a beard, and if you see this film for no other reason, don't so much see it for Bateman's performance, but rather his beard's performance, because he eventually has a pseudo-woodsman type of deal and I didn't even know he could grow a beard in the first place. Huh, considering how everyone keeps forgetting about Hope Davis, Andrea Riseborough and Alexander Skarsgård, you'd think that the makers of this film would try to make sure that their biggest name didn't obscure his distinguished features, as this project is not likely to be too much of a success as it is. Oh well, those who do, in fact, see it, are still going to get more of a treat than a bearded Bateman, yet as surely as an obscured star comes with only so much money, this film comes with only so much to keep you going before the flaws kick in, and pretty hard.
Not only would I say that this film is not all generic, I would say that it does, in fact, have a few reasonably refreshing touches to its interpretation of worthy subject matter, but there's hardly anything all that unique about this film, which does actually have a tendency to get kind of formulaic, something that it can't completely compensate for with meatiness, for although this is a fairly juicy story, dramatic kick is limited, partly because the film gets kind of carried away with juggling plot layers, to the point of becoming mildly convoluted, or at least uneven. On top of being kind of bloated, this film's story concept boasts rather questionable characters whose glaring flaws often challenge your investment, and go emphasized by a certain questionable element in the telling of a questionable tale. Subtlety is more limited than you might expect with a film of this nature, not just when it comes to the thematic depth that has a tendency to ape the narrative as borderline overbearing, but when it comes to dramatic depth that is all too often tainted with a hint of histrionics, which aren't too severe, to the point of distancing you all that much, but still shake the full convincingness of this conceptually realist drama. I suppose the film is grounded enough for you to buy into its proposals of a realist view into subject matter like this, but there are overbearing occasions that reflect dramatic limitations, as well as a touch too much ambition to craft this drama into something exciting. As irony have it, when the film is not too charged to be all that piercing, it's too draggy to be all that exciting, getting to be excessive with material and filler, until slipping into repetition, or at least feeling as though it does, due to pacing's often being stiffened by a certain atmospheric coldness that is expected from films of this type, and bland things up enough to play a crucial part in driving the final product short of rewarding. Sure, the film is never as dull as I feared it would be, and it's not like its bland spells are frequently all that bland, but when the drama drags its feet, you just cannot help but notice the hiccups in dramatic handling, formulaic areas and conceptually held back elements, which ultimately hold the film back as just another independent dramatic thriller of its type. Of course, that's not all that bad of a thing, because even though this film leaves much to be desired, what it does right it does quite well, even when it comes to style, at least to an extent.
Director Henry Alex Rubin has neither the money or experience as a stylish filmmaker to craft all that good-looking of a film, so visual style is hardly all that outstanding, but it remains quite decent more often than not, for although there may be a touch too much camera distancing shakery at times, cinematographer Ken Seng's near-swampy taste in harsh lighting and coloring is both unconventionally handsome, as well as complimentary to the tone of this sleazy drama. Again, visual style isn't too special, and artistic touches beyond that are even less impressive, yet what flavor there is to Seng's photography proves to be rather effective in capturing both your aesthetic attention and the heart of the subject matter, which, quite frankly, doesn't need too much aesthetic punch-up to endear. There are natural shortcomings and formulaic attributes to this perhaps bloated ensemble character drama, but this is still a pretty worthy story concept, with intriguing thematic depth that goes anchored by stories that, in spite of questionable characters and thin spots, compel, at least on paper, and have a tendency to be brought to life by some reasonably inspired storytelling. Either the film is not inspired enough or too inspired, to the point of overambition and a histrionically bloated atmosphere, but when storytelling works, it engages, both through a script by Andrew Stern that offers thoughtful characterization, and through highlights in a directorial performance by relative newcomer Henry Alex Rubin whose meditative atmosphere often really is effective in capturing the harsh depths of this film. Again, the film's story concept is improvable, and the telling of it is even more so, but there is quite a bit of heart to this sleazy, but still pretty human character drama, and Rubin keeps it pumping about as much as he keeps it slowed down, as surely as the onscreen performances keep consistent in breathing some life into the core of this film. There's only so much for our leads to work with, but most all of them deliver to some extent, with certain relative standouts including anyone from the teen talents, - such as a convincing and effective Jonah Bobo as a quiet and distanced teen whose life is turned upside down by questionable interactions with influential peers, as well as an equally effective Colin Ford as a flawed young man whose own questionable decisions get a peer in a lot of trouble and himself caught up in a lot of guilt - to compelling seasoned performers such as Jason Bateman, Hope Davis, Andrea Riseborough, Paula Patton and Alexander Skarsgård. The performers do about as much as anything in keeping the film going, and while they're not enough to get the film by that much, they still stand among a good deal of elements that keep the final product going as engaging, even if it deserves to be more so.
To sign off, conventions and natural shortcomings within a perhaps overblown story concept go stressed by subtlety issues and draggy pacing, - made all the more distancing by atmospheric cold spells - to the point of leaving the final product to eventually sputter out as underwhelming, but not to where a reasonably intriguing story concept - complimented by handsome and often tonally effective cinematography, and brought to life about as much as it can be by directorial highlights and across-the-board inspired acting performances - don't prove to be enough to make Henry Alex Rubin's "Disconnect" a reasonably engaging meditation upon the dangers of modern communication, in spite of its having almost as many questionable aspects as the elements it focuses on.
2.5/5 - Fair