Way Too Obvious
If thoughts of covering your webcam and cutting your internet connection have ever crossed your mind as the means for getting a bit more privacy, then The Circle certainly isn’t a movie for you. It’s a creepy satire about paranoia, secrecy, and the price we are willing to pay for knowledge in today’s always-connected world. It’s certainly real-world stuff rooted in our desire for a transparent society, but for such eerily relevant subject matter, The Circle sure is dull entertainment. It’s the story of temp-worker Mae (Emma Watson) who toils at her local city call center job until friend Annie (Karen Gillan) hooks her up with the opportunity of a lifetime: a job at The Circle, the world’s largest and most powerful technology and social media company.
The Circle (the company) is led by Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks) who walks across large stages lit by flashy powerpoints while spewing the significance of the company’s latest gadget or breakthrough technology to the appreciative applause from the hordes of underlings in the audience. He’s preaching to the choir, and the allusion to Steve Jobs is obvious. And that’s part of the reason The Circle fails to connect. Everything is too obvious. We figure out early on that the company, despite its abundance of generous amenities, is an evil company out to do bad things. A little nuance or subtlety would make the reveal much more effective.
But as it is, the eye rolls keep pouring in, including a workplace visit by a couple of co-workers who chide Mae for not giving up more of her privacy and participating in more “optional” company activities. It’s not until a visit from a shadowy deep throat-like visage in the form of John Boyega that Mae’s eyes are opened to the overwhelming power of the company. Even then, though, following a kayaking accident from which she was saved because her every move was being watched by the company, Mae becomes the first employee to completely open up and go fully transparent by wearing a body cam and having her every daily task filmed, logged, stored, and broadcast to the internet. Naturally, it’s not long before things go bad, really bad, and Mae awakens to the dangers of what a fully transparent life can become.
The Circle is co-written by director James Ponsoldt and Dave Eggers, who adapts his own novel to the big screen. Those who enjoyed Ponsoldt’s The End of the Tour back in 2015 certainly had their hopes up for an equally memorable follow-up story, and one would also expect a much more lively adaptation from the popular book’s own author. Unfortunately, this big screen adaptation is no better than any of the individual episodes of Netflix’s Dark Mirror, which explore many of the same themes to much better effect.
Another of the film’s shortcomings involves the surprising ineffectiveness of its star-studded cast. The Americanized Watson never brings much life to her Mae, while Hanks’ avuncular Bailey never seems all that menacing. Clearly, the filmmakers want the sense of danger to come from a villain much bigger than any one person. But sadly, we humans have already succumbed to the big bad reality of supreme openness and lack of privacy. The Circle, with its questions of “how does the world balance the benefits of a transparent society versus the human need for privacy” is about five years too late to muster any real fear from an audience enamored with broadcasting our daily lives on Facebook Live, Telescope, Meerkat, or any of the numerous other avenues. Plus, many others have handled the idea much better.
The Circle is a beautiful film with a shiny veneer of logos, bright colors, and well-branded tech products that masks a sadistic undercoat of self-humiliation and compunction. But its satire is way too obvious, its pacing too slow, and its themes a few years too late to have anything significant to say about our current surveillance society. The Circle wants to friend you. Don’t Accept.
(Released by STX Entertainment and rated “PG-13” for a sexual situation, brief strong language and some thematic elements including drug use.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.