The Circle is a gripping modern thriller starring Emma Watson, Tom Hanks and John Boyega. When Mae (Emma Watson) is hired to work for the world’s largest and most powerful tech & social media company, she sees it as an opportunity of a lifetime. As she rises through the ranks, she is encouraged by the company’s founder, Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks), to engage in a groundbreaking experiment that pushes the boundaries of privacy, ethics and ultimately her personal freedom. Her participation in the experiment, and every decision she makes begin to affect the lives and future of her friends, family and that of humanity.
Based on the acclaimed novel of the same name by David Eggers, James Ponsoldt directs the tech thriller. A premise that is more relevant than ever with advances in technology, The Circle tries to promote a compelling message but barely scratches the surface as it’s bogged down by a poor screenplay and incoherent editing. The company led by Tom Hanks and Patton Oswalt believe that recording everything, yes EVERYTHING, would be beneficial to governments to prevent potential cyber and terrorist attacks. Filming innocent people throughout the day, even in the comfort of their own home is illegal and nonsensical.
We never have any of the character motivations fleshed out thanks to a script that is doing its best to compile a dense story into two hours. Many of the loose ends are left untied, including what seems like a pivotal character who for long periods of time is nowhere to be seen. The editing is tonally incomplete as it struggles to find any consistency throughout the story. Aesthetically speaking the film is gorgeous to look at thanks to the work of Matthew Libatique (Black Swan) as the headquarters for The Circle is vibrant and dystopian like. Danny Elfman composes the synthy score that blends well with the Libatique lensed film. Ponsoldt, an acclaimed director for works such as The Spectacular Now and The End of the Tour, doesn’t leave a big enough impression to bolster his resume and make The Circle a memorable film.
Minus The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Emma Watson has struggled to breakout of the Harry Potter spotlight and mature into a credible actress. Here her character is quite bland and not given much to do. As seen in previous films, her American accent fluctuates, often hearing the British accent peaking by the end. With another rewrite or two, Watson’s character could have made the film more compelling with her personal conflictions with friends, family, and faith. Tom Hanks plays the Steve Jobs like Eamon Bailey, chewing up scenery with his maniacal intentions. Though not in the film much, he delivers the breakout performance, as his conniving mannerisms convince Mae to look at the bigger picture and be the spokesperson for a new program they’re starting up.
John Boyega unfortunately only has 3 or 4 scenes but has one of the better ones in a scene where he tries to expose The Circle and the intentions they have. His character seems like he should have more to do in the film but he’s instead pushed to the sidelines. Karen Gillan plays Mae’s friend Annie who works at The Circle and helps her get a job. As time passes she becomes overworked and pushed to her breaking point as Mae moves up the company’s ranks. In his last film role, Bill Paxton plays Mae’s father who is struggling with MS. Suitably, Paxton delivers a subtle and humane performance to this rather hollow film. The moments between him and Watson are gentle and even more precious now that we know the circumstances.
The Circle is an intriguing idea that should have benefitted from the advances in technology but instead consists of boring, one note characters who talk and walk as if it’s an Aaron Sorkin film, but with less context. By the time the story picks up the pace it’s already too late. At 110 minutes, the film plays like a story without a second act. A beginning and an end but without any explanation resulting in the initial ideas being absurd. On paper The Circle features an all star cast of talents and an on the rise director, on the screen The Circle is an incomprehensible mess that settles on being all style and no substance.