The Circle (2017) Review

"The Circle has the look and feel of a good movie"

by Steve Pulaski

Watch Steve's supplemental video review at the bottom of the article

Just a week ago in my college class on social theory, a number of students were lamenting the rise of social media, saying that they've either deleted their Facebook accounts or have largely ceased using them as prolifically as they once did. They said they've long-embraced it out of peer pressure, and the idea of constant connectivity was limiting their real-world relationships. Four years ago, this mindset wasn't as present, but it's becoming more common than we all think, especially as we're bombarded with images and stereotypes of phone-addicted youngsters.

Don't misunderstand me, smartphones and the overuse of them is still, by and large, commonplace, but James Ponsoldt's The Circle would've been a more timely and alarming wake-up call had it come during the dawn of constant contact. The truth is, it actually did, as the film is based on a book by the film's cowriter Dave Eggers, which was released in 2013 to rave reviews. How The Circle reads I cannot say, but I can say that it plays like most cyber-thrillers and dramas we've seen, such as The Net, The Truman Show, Feardotcom, and Cyberbully.

The thought of technology being a double-edged sword is not a new concept. The lengths and ways it might continue to infiltrate our life, to what extent, and to what effect are. For almost two hours, The Circle makes commendable attempts to tantalize us, opting for the cinematic presentation of a TED Talk as Tom Hanks plays Eamon Bailey, the cofounder of the titular company, who expounds upon ideas such as small, spherical cameras embedded on every street-corner and an online-program designed to find anyone at any time. The concepts are frightening, the responses they generate from optimistic, book-smart millennials in the crowd suggest positivity, and the questions are as present as security cameras in a casino.

The Circle
Directed by James Ponsoldt
Cast Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, John Boyega
Release Date 28 April 2017
Steve's Grade: C-

So it's a damn shame that The Circle settles for excessive questions rather than any attempt at offering convincing answers or developed depictions regarding those lofty ideas. The film settles for exhausted contrivances about a Big Brother surveillance state rather than focusing on the real point of interest - the operations of The Circle in-detail and the activities of the founders of the company and their contradictory lack of transparency. Instead, we watch the young, wishy-washy Mae Holland (Emma Watson admirably but unsuccessfully trying to smother her British accent) try to navigate The Circle as her new place of employment, gradually giving up her personal security and privacy to this corporate titan that tries to extend its reach every week.

For a woman so smart and so educated, it's amazing how quickly Mae falls into the ploys of Bailey and his co-founder Tom Stenton (Patton Oswalt), even as she's forewarned about the company's potential by ousted employee Ty (Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens John Boyega). She puts her mother and MS-stricken father, played by Bill Paxton in his final film role, on The Circle's health-plan, and disrespects the privacy and wishes of her close friend Mercer (Boyhood's Ellar Coltrane) as he implores her to seek out other work.

Watson does a peculiar job of acting here, especially as her character is increasingly robbed of privacy by her coworkers or even her own personal desire to "go transparent," wearing a camera on her blouse that streams her activities 24/7 to thousands of streamers (who hilariously comment on her actions as thought-bubbles scatter on-screen). At times, her facial expressions suggest distress and uncertainty, but during the following scene, she's embracing the ideas as if she never thought twice, unusually confusing the thought-process and clarity behind her character's motivations. Furthermore, Hanks just doesn't seem to take his role very seriously, never becoming the villain the film needs or we would like him to be. He's too charming, never having a real point of explosive energy to show his alternate intentions - he's too Tom Hanks.

The Circle has the look and feel of a good movie, and I initially emerged more positive than I seem now. Its visual-style is sleek, its commentary is relevant now and will be for a long time, and it has moments of inspiration and intrigue. However, it reminds me a lot of the original Purge, which introduced an unbelievably gripping dystopia where once a year, for twelve hours, all crime in the United States, even murder, was made legal. The Purge set up incredible stakes and then confined us to watching a rich, privileged family on lockdown while civilization crumbled outside their window.

The Circle is the cinematic equivalent of a sociologist or a social theorist living the life of a hermit.


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