In a world where social media has enveloped our lives and turned privacy into something our only grandparents partake in, it is inevitable that a film like The Circle gets made. It’s a topic that is as relevant as it is scary in knowing where the world could head with all this social interaction and data at its fingertips. Except someone forgot to tell the makers of The Circle, because what we ended up getting is a bland and listless thriller that doesn’t offer much in the form of thrills or insight at all.
This is the opposite of what you expect when you consider that Hollywood heavyweights Tom Hanks and Emma Watson are involved. Based on a novel by Dave Eggers, The Circle follows the young and aspiring Mae Holland (Emma Watson), a new employee at the world’s largest software and social media company, aptly titled The Circle. It’s essentially a fictional company built around the combination of Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon which offers a massive host of cutting-edge software. Founder Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks) and his second in command Tom Stenton (Patton Oswalt) are intent on ensuring it becomes not only the most powerful company in the world but also the centre of all collected data from human interaction.
Watson gets swept up in the hype of using all this world’s data for the benefit of humanity and makes a decision to make her entire life public to the world. Along the way though she realises that the lack of privacy has serious consequences for both herself and the ones she loves and that the company perhaps does not have the altruistic motives she once believed it did.
Much of the problem with the movie is in the way it portrays the company of The Circle form the very beginning. Where we could’ve been sucked into the euphoria of its concept and have elements of its good nature slowly unravel to us like any decent thriller, the company is shown to be encroaching on privacy and basic human dignity from the very beginning. This results in making the movie completely predictable as you can immediately see where it is heading. It is quite frankly an odd decision from director James Ponsoldt and Eggers himself who co-wrote the screenplay that should’ve been altered early in pre-production because it so obviously robs the film of any suspense. Even throwing some humour into the plot could’ve potentially given the film more purpose, but sadly as it stands, the film feels aimless in what it is trying to achieve. To make matters worse, as the film does start to get mildly interesting, it just ends abruptly in an absolutely unsatisfying way.
It also doesn’t help that by far the most talented actor in the entire cast – which also sports John Boyega, Karen Gillan and Ellar Coltrane – is barely utilized at all. Tom Hanks might get star billing for this movie, but you barely see him until 30 minutes into the movie and then even then, his appearances are sporadic and completely underutilized. The Circle is most assuredly the Emma Watson show and she admittedly does a solid job – it’s a little unfair to place too much blame on her when the material she had to work with was very poor. Her character’s transition from new starter to fledging socialite and company star is just a little too quick and undeveloped. The conversations and events which lead her to these decisions are actually not shown in the movie and have assumedly been edited out, which unfortunately leaves the film with some gaping holes in its character development.
The Circle’s issues are not all script-related though as the overall approach taken by Ponsoldt leaves much to be desired. He seems to be simply be trying to move the story along narratively without trying to build emotion out of his scenes. The way he also tries to draw social media responses into the film also comes across as comical at times and often distracts the viewer from the performance of the actors. The pacing of the movie also leaves much to be desired with no clear moments of tension. That the film takes about 20 minutes to get going certainly doesn’t help and you can’t help but wonder if it might have felt a little different had they cut out some of the opening monotony. This monotony also applies to the score, which not only doesn’t really add anything to the story, it sometimes comes across as more of an annoying ringtone that needs to be silenced than a decent companion to the movie.
The late Bill Paxton who stars as Mae’s sickly father and Glenne Headley as her mother are perhaps the best things about the movie, even if they are only in it for short periods of time. John Boyega’s character is perhaps the only source of mystery in the movie and a welcome diversion for the most part when he does get involved. The film also stars Karen Gillan and Ellar Coltrane as Mae’s closest friends, but they don’t really add much.
In the end, The Circle is more of a social documentary on the dangers of social media and corporate antitrust than it is an engaging film. It ruins its potentially exciting premise by some bland storytelling and a lack of purpose. Instead of a circle around it, I’ll be drawing an X through this movie instead – to avoid it.
Last Updated: November 8, 2017