The Circle movie review: Emma Watson's tech-thriller isn't really thrilling
To say that director James Ponsoldt's The Circle - adapted from Dave Eggers’ 2013 novel - is just an extension of the current social media landscape would not be undermining the movie. It takes the narrative of a 'everybody online' world and ups the ante. It's The Social Network, except where the whole world is online and everything is transparent. It's about the dangers of over-dependence on one's digital footprints.
Emma Watson stars as Mae, a twentysomething living at home, seeking a better job and uninterested in pursuing anything with childhood friend Mercer (played by Ellar Coltrane). A call from friend Annie (played by Karen Gillan) results in an interview with the 'dream' company - a Google-esque firm trying to take over the world, privacy be damned. It's a company that knows absolutely everything there is to know about you and stores massive amounts of data of each of its account holders.
It embraces the belief that privacy be put on the backburner and constant surveillance be the way of life. Mae aces the interview and finds herself pulled deep into a company, blurring the lines between private and public life. The co-founder of the company, Eamon (played by Tom Hanks), takes a liking to Mae's profile and her meteoric rise is thanks to him. It's only when she comes into contact with mysterious colleague Tye (played by John Boyega) that she realises the bigger more damaging implications of the work she and the company are doing.
Early on in the movie, and the only time we see Hanks on screen in the entire first half, is when Mae attends her first Dream Friday, a weekly pep talk held by co-founder Eamon, who talks about how good The Circle is for everyone in the world. It's like Steve Jobs giving a speech to Apple employees except with consequences exceeding just the company. In that Dream Friday, Eamon unveils a shiny round and tiny camera that can be attached to any surface and is almost impossible to spot. A real-time live feed of the environment surrounding the camera, straight to your feed. In the age of high
In that Dream Friday, Eamon unveils a shiny round and tiny camera that can be attached to any surface and is almost impossible to spot. A real-time live feed of the environment surrounding the camera, straight to your feed. In the age of high surveillance, this feels very NSA.
The problem for the movie starts when the actions - post the Dream Friday talk - the company takes seem to only affect those inside the campus extending to Mae's parents and Mercer. It feels disconnected. The setup may be Black Mirror-esque but none of the ideas are actually explored. It's a film that hasn't tried to push any boundaries
Mercer's character is set up to be an integral part of the film's end but falls off the radar in a couple of disjointed scenes. Same can be said about Annie's character who goes from power player within The Circle to a complete mess in a few scenes that leave the viewer hanging. Tye's character isn't expanding on enough and the charm of him being virtually unknown wears off pretty quickly.
Social media obsession?
The Circle has a social media obsession and early on, there was a chance for that to be expanded upon. Mae is informed, at her desk, that she's fallen behind on her social media presence and needs to up her game as an intergral part of her job, albeit being completely 'optional'. The push toward sharing is all for her own good, of course. Again, the entirely optional part of it was just a throw-away.
Emotionally drained Watson
The anchor, the eyes and ears of the audience, the leading light for The Circle is Watson. During her 24/7 'transparent' living, her emotions fall flat. Naturally, a character like this should be expected to evoke some sort of emotion - fear, empathy, curiosity, shock, wonder, etc - except Watson is as full as a dishwater , barring a scene or two.
Despite being the 'smartest' new person in the organisation, Watson is made to look dumb in her various interactions with Hanks and is unsurprisingly caught in a web of lies which she scarcely tries to get out of.
The movie gets lost with its immense liking for exposition. When one would like comedy, it isn't there. When one would like the talking to slow down, it speeds up. When one wants a lighter moment to interject the heavy moments, one doesn't get it.
One of the parts that the film gets correct is when a stream of comments pop up on screen - intense scrutiny, support, jeers and attention seekers - post Mae going transparent. That flood of information, courtesy the millions in The Circle feels relatable as we choose to share more and more of our lives on various social networks. It may just be surface level but nonetheless there is a connect.
Should you watch it?
In the end, the movie that waits too long for its final reveal and gets muddled up with emotionless characters and a heavy-handed script in the middle.
There isn't enough of a balance between the 'online' and 'offline' worlds that people live, and this leaves much to be desired as those trying to stand up for their privacy are merely sidelined. Built as a thriller, this one lacks much of a what a thriller encompasses. Sure, The Circle looks beautiful with all its advanced technology and modern campus but the direction felt a little too simplistic.
In the end, it's a thriller without thrills and with empty characters. It may find its one or two fans who like Watson's charming but disengaging acting, or Hanks delivering speech after speech, but one cannot recommend a movie like this. Avoid unless you're bored and absolutely nothing else is coming on the television.