Starring: Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, John Boyega
Director: James Ponsoldt
Screenplay: James Ponsoldt, Dave Eggers
Drama/Sci-Fi/Thriller, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 110 minutes
Release Date: April 27, 2017
Scott, it’s time to circle the wagons and review The Circle.
I’m coming around to it, Greg. Thanks for keeping me in the loop. Let’s recap.
We’re introduced to young Mae (Emma Watson). She works in a dull cubicle job collecting money for the water department. When one day, her best friend calls and says she got an interview with “The Circle” – an Apple/Google/Facebook-like company that specializes in social media software. The interview is a bit bizarre, but she gets in and can’t wait to get started.
Mae begins working at the Circle and immediately realizes that she is expected to make the job her entire life — her friends, activities, and parties are all arranged by the Circle. At one of these parties she meets Ty Leffit (John Boyega), one of the mythical founders of the Circle who has now gone incognito. Mae realizes that Ty doesn’t revere the Circle as everyone else seems to. Soon Mae is taken under the wing of Circle co-founder Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks), who uses Mae to demonstrate the formidable power of social media.
Scott, The Circle is a movie that cannot find its center. On the one hand it wants to show us the scary side of social media and technology. On the other hand, it seems to solve all problems by adding technology to our lives.
The company introduces a mini-cam that is the size of an eyeball and can be glued to any standing structure. The idea is that it can see everything all the time. We’re never shown the downside of this but we’re led to believe there is one.
Then Mae goes “transparent” – broadcasting her every move to the world. But it gets scary when she accidentally broadcasts her parents having sex.
Then she outs a fugitive using the ubiquity of cellphone cameras. But then her best friend is killed when the same social media tool is used to chase him down. We can never tell what this film is trying to say – is technology good or bad?
I think it’s trying to say that it’s both. It’s good when used wisely and bad when used unwisely. Kind of like money, sex, marriage, and a million other things that can be good or bad.
The Circle is a well-intentioned movie about the dangers of technology in compromising our privacy. Alas, good intentions do not necessarily translate into good movies. There are major problems with this film that make me surprised that actors as seasoned as Tom Hanks and Emma Watson would agree to be a part of it.
First, this theme of technology invading privacy is hardly new. This topic has been bandied about for many years. Second, the way the storyline unfolds is painfully predictable. We know from the start that the Circle is evil, and so the ending of the film is entirely anticlimactic. Third, Emma Watson fails to portray a character who convincingly evolves from naivety to revelation. She just sort of changes one day without us seeing it happen. That’s simply bad filmmaking.
I cannot measure just how disappointed I was in this film. If you want to see both sides of an issue look at the filmcraft of Eye in the Sky. Here, three points of view about the collateral death of a young girl during a bombing the middle east are presented. It leaves the conclusions to the audience, but it makes clear that there are no good solutions.
But The Circle simply moves from one technical issue to the next with no resolution to speak of. And the writer seemed to have no comprehension of how technology works. We were dragged into an abandoned subway where apparently hard drives would be spun up with information on each of us. In fact, data is distributed across the globe to promote redundancy.
On top of that are glaring contradictions in philosophy. In one scene, Mae is devastated by the loss of her friend Mercer who died at the hands of a social media chase she instigated. She apparently has shunned technology. And so she reaches out to her friend Annie (Karen Gillan) – using her cell phone. She’s in a video chat with her friend and says: “I like this. This personal connection. This is the way people should communicate.”
This was a serious face-palm moment for me. Apparently, using the internet to have a personal conversation is alright. But using the same technology to talk to a hundred people is not. Apparently talking by way of videophone is better than meeting in person. The movie is rife with these contradictions. It was maddening.
The hero’s journey is boring and predictable. Mae is excited to join the Circle and we know from the get-go that she will eventually come around to seeing the Circle as the evil entity that it plainly is. There’s not a single surprise in this movie. The only surprise is that the film was made and that good actors found themselves trapped in the Circle.
So while Mae does undergo a transformation, we aren’t impressed because we know it’s going to happen about 10 minutes into the film. And even though Mae transforms, it’s not clear in her acting that it’s happened. You don’t see it in her eyes or in her gait or anywhere — except in the speech she gives to trap Bailey at the end. This movie is a true yawner.
I don’t have your talent for clairvoyance, apparently, Scott. I can’t see what isn’t there. There is no hero’s journey in this film. We never get to see what the leaders of The Circle want. We never see Mae overcome an obstacle because every obstacle is replaced with something beneficial: When Mercer dies, The Circle invents self-driving cars to eliminate car accidents. When The Circle realizes that all voting age people are members, they create democratic voting online. Is this good or bad? We can’t tell because the ramifications of these acts are never shown.
In the final act, when Mae exposes all of The Circle’s emails, Tom Hanks turns to his henchman and says “we’re fucked.” But we don’t know why they’re fucked – because we never saw a single email they sent. No conflict means no transformation and no story.
The Circle is the most nonsensical movie you will see this year. It has no opinions about technology. Most of the technological issues it presents have been dealt with in the recent past – and in some cases decades ago. Some very fine performances from Tom Hanks and Emma Watson are wasted. I recently called out The Promise as a cause film which did not serve its cause. The Circle is a cause film without a cause. If you avoid one movie this year, make it The Circle. I give it zero out of 5 Reels.
Mae is a likable and naive young woman with noble intentions. She loves her parents and wants to help them. She likes her friend Mercer, even if she can’t return his love. But she never encounters any real obstacles and so can never grow. As a hero, she gets a mere 1 Hero out of 5.
There are no transformations in this story. Except that I was transformed from alert and watchful to bored and sleepy. I give The Circle zero Deltas out of 5.
The Circle certainly was a gigantic disappointment. This movie should have gone straight to DVD or blu-ray. The plot is painfully predictable and the issues about technology are not explored in any depth or in any way that holds our interest. Only true diehard fans of Tom Hanks or Emma Watson may want to give this film a look. No one else should dare go near. I give this movie 1 Reel out of 5.
Mae’s hero journey is mapped out for us from the very start, and so it’s a major disappointment not seeing a single surprise from start to finish. We’ve already talked about the lack of any meaningful transformations, so let’s get right to the ratings: 1 Hero point out of 5, and 1 transformation Delta out of 5, too.