Hot Take: With talent like Tom Hanks, Emma Watson and John Boyega at its disposal, The Circle shouldn’t land with as loud of a thud as it does. A colossal waste of time.
I really wanted The Circle to be good. April was a rather weak month of releases but it landed at the top of MHT’s anticipated films of the month list. There’s a lot to worry about when it comes to our privacy in this much more transparent, digital age and that gives The Circle a solid foundation to build something compelling and timely. Unfortunately, The Circle feels about 5 years too late and today’s fears don’t match yesterday’s concerns and The Circle‘s paranoid plot appears outdated and off the mark.
Based on a 2013 Dave Eggers novel of the same name, The Circle follows Mae (Emma Watson), a young woman who is given the chance of a lifetime by her friend Annie (Karen Gillian) to work for one of the most powerful companies in the world — The Circle. What is The Circle? Think Google meets Apple meets Facebook. One of the company’s founders is Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks) who appears to be a more charismatic Steve Jobs type who spouts words of wisdom like “Sharing is caring!” at the company’s weekly “Dream Friday” sessions on The Circle’s expansive campus. The other is Tom Stenton (Patton Oswalt) who is a more shadowy figure within the company who appears sleazy under the surface in every interaction. The Circle’s motives appear righteous as they spout the desire to hold the world accountable and seek full transparency for all.
As Mae tries to adapt and fit in at The Circle, you get the sense you’ve just uncovered a loose string on a cheap sweater that you can’t help but pull. As you pull on the string, the sweater begins to unravel. Mae wants desperately to fit in at The Circle so when two rather annoying members of The Circle’s team begin badgering her about her lack of participation in The Circle’s internal social network, she’s more focused on how do I become more accepted than asking, “How the hell do these two idiots know all this personal information about me and my family?” As Mae gets more engrossed with the company, she loses touch with her childhood friend Mercer (Ellar Coltrane) who appears to have a crush on Mae. She tries to help his deer antler chandelier (Yup, deer antler chandelier!) business by posting a photo of one on her social page. Instead of helping Mercer, he comes under siege from an angry mob of do gooders who refer to him as a murderer.
There’s trouble at home for Mae, too, although she barely goes home now that she lives at the dorms that are on The Circle’s campus. Her father (Bill Paxton) has MS and her mother (Glenne Headley) has her hands full taking care of him. As the pressure mounts, Mae decides to steal a kayak and go out for a midnight kayaking adventure. She’s capsized in the fog by a ship but saved thanks to The Circle’s SeeChange technology which has eyes everywhere. Since she committed a high profile crime that received much media attention, she’s brought in to talk to Bailey and Stenton who propose she take on a new role and become the first person to live being completely transparent, having every move they make recorded and broadcast live to the world. Fear not, Mae gets three minutes to herself to use the bathroom. This is where the film completely unravels. I think I traced it back to Mae’s introduction at a “Dream Friday” session when they reveal her intentions of being completely transparent and she utters the nausea inducing line, “Secrets are lies.” Ugh!
This is about the point where going further with plot details will reveal spoilers. Since The Circle‘s central theme is complete transparency it would be apropos to write a review that did exactly that. However, when it comes to The Circle, the less time of yours I waste on it, the better off we both are. The film is a complete missed opportunity. It’s the second time in less than 12 months that Eggers and Hanks have combined for such a complete miss. The first was last year’s A Hologram for the King. Both had very similar problems as it appears Eggers’ work might benefit from a “Best by” timestamp for when it should be digested. Although the film has taken liberties with the source material, it spends more time pontificating on privacy issues that are stale compared to more current and timely concerns. The film is in the right church when it comes to intrusive technology but definitely in the wrong pew for most of the film.
Essentially, The Circle could have been called The Drain because that’s where it flushes its wealth of resources. Instead of making a bold statement about technology and privacy, the film circles the topic and never really goes all-in on its apparent albeit muddled mission. The ending is different than the novel and if you told me there was a last minute scramble to re-shoot it because test audiences weren’t thrilled with the original outcome, it wouldn’t be a surprise. If that were the case, they still didn’t get it right but by the time the film gets to the ending, there’s little chance it could do anything to right the ship anyway. Maybe there was a better movie here and maybe the source material is more effective but in the end, The Circle is a disaster.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- One More Chance to See Bill Paxton
Paxton’s role in The Circle is small but he’s not responsible for the mess The Circle is. He delivers a believable performance as Mae’s MS-inflicted dad.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- Knowing Everything and Nothing
Early in the film, Annie sneaks Mae into a secret room where Bailey and Stenton meet. Later, she confesses to having been in there before to the co-founders as they gloat that they already knew that because they have cameras everywhere. However, they never feel the need to question Mae about her encounters with Ty Lafitte (John Boyega), the off-the-grid inventor of one of The Circle’s most successful technologies. It’s plot holes like this one that make the film so aggravating.
- Is Mae Bipolar?
It’s hard to figure out who Mae is in this film. Partially impaired by the choice of Watson to play the main character (it’s difficult to imagine her being anything more than righteous based on her past roles), whenever Mae takes on a more devious and selfish angle, it doesn’t come across as genuinely believable to the point where you might think she’s more gullible than anything. It appears that the filmmakers want you to think of Mae as complex but all she really does is perplex.