"The Circle": Movie Review

Updated on May 1, 2017
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Collin's been a movie critic since 2009. In real life he works in marketing and is also a novelist ("Good Riddance" published in Oct 2015).

The Circle
The Circle | Source

In case you hadn’t heard, there are large tech companies based in the San Francisco area that are very interested in your internet habits—what products you buy, what topics you discuss, what places you visit.

And if they had their way, there would soon be hundreds of cameras on every street corner, and these companies would know your every move and maybe even your every thought.

They're invading our lives! There's no escape!

While there are plenty of people in the world who are legitimately concerned about privacy issues like those, even they would be hard-pressed to find an ally in the ham-fisted, slogging mess that is The Circle.

Based on the novel by Dave Eggers (who co-adapted his own screenplay alongside director James Ponsoldt), The Circle is supposed to be a biting commentary (and maybe even a satire) about the growing power of companies like Facebook, Google, and Apple and the evil that's inherent in the power and intrusion they represent. And that if we're not careful, people could die! Instead it barely even gets out of the gate and finishes as a...well, I’m not sure even Ponsoldt or Eggers could tell us.

Emma Watson stars as Mae, a temp office worker who finally gets an interview at the vaunted Circle (a thinly-veiled Google/Facebook amalgam) courtesy of her super plugged-in bestie Annie (Karen Gillan). Of course she nails it and before long she’s manning the customer service chat boards, while right outside her window, co-workers are trampolining, playing bocce, and attending dog-yoga classes on the sprawling campus.

At the company’s weekly assembly, she listens as founder Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks) touts their newest innovation, a marble-sized camera that has been placed (illegally, mind you, but whatever) around the world to track everyone’s movements. Mae is instantly taken with the technology and even goes so far as to agree to wear one of the cameras around-the-clock, so she can be a bastion of transparency for her co-workers. Her voluntary Truman Show bores more than it enlightens though, as were subjected to moments like Mae waking up, or walking to work, or driving.

It doesn't take long for things to escalate, though, and soon Mae is fighting for her life after a kayak accident (but the world was watching, so naturally rescue comes quickly), and then the assault on her privacy gets more and more invasive as The Circle attempts to become an Orwellian thriller. Will she outrun the prying eyes of, oh, everyone in the world? Will she outsmart the company? Will the company realize it's taking things too far? Lives are at stake, dammit!

If only we cared about any of the lives in The Circle.

Actually I'll take that back. There are two lives we do care about. Mae's parents Bonnie (Glenne Headly) and Vinnie (the late Bill Paxton, wonderful in his last on-screen role) are the only honest-to-god real and decent people in the whole movie, serving as both moral compass and chief skeptics. So, naturally, their story is never really given the due it deserves, and is, in fact, inexplicably given a wholly-unnecessary tawdry element that taints the entire film.

But The Circle isn't really about people. It's about trying to scare us into thinking that technology is invading our lives, and that we can never outrun it. Along with The Truman Show, The Circle borrows heavily from other tech-fueled films like EDtv, Virtuosity, and The Net. But we’re in 2017, and every one of those movies came out in the 90s. Talk about being late to the party.

As for the talent, Hanks is appropriately smarmy as the Steve Jobs-esque leader of the lemmings, deftly appearing both charming and menacingly creepy at the same time. And Gillan also does an admirable job as a workaholic who spirals down the rabbit hole as Mae climbs up the corporate ladder. Watson, though, is almost unwatchable. She may have made a name for herself as Hermione, but her days of just getting by on being adorable while hurling spells at evil wizards are long behind her. The doubts I first had while sitting through her live-action Beauty and the Beast were only confirmed in The Circle; she simply doesn’t have the talent to carry a film.

I’m sure all involved thought they were signing on to make a timely, taut thriller steeped in today’s tech-heavy, invasive world, but the end result is frankly laughable. Everything you see has been done before (and done much better)...making The Circle the movie equivalent of a 404 error.


1/5 stars

'The Circle' trailer


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