Tribeca 2017: The Circle
In a world where companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter are widely used communicative tools, a film like The Circle where the sinister implications of such networks should appropriately be a slam-dunk of a concept. Sadly, this feature from director James Ponsoldt and writer Dave Eggers manages to be a thriller with little-to-no excitement, failing to hone in on a premise that’s ripe for evaluation.
Mae Holland (Emma Watson) receives the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get a coveted position at The Circle - the world’s most successful company that acts as a major social tool for innovation. Operating out of a massive campus where its hundreds of employees reside, The Circle brings together email, social media, and monetary transactions under one umbrella and one common identity, which is completely available to other users of the system. On first glance, the environment seems like a happy, productive area, where workers are developing the latest cutting edge software and having ample room for fraternizing. As Mae’s position becomes elevated as she engages with the company’s image, and grows more distant with her loved ones, she begins to realize that The Circle’s idea of ‘knowing is good, but knowing everything is better’ has its repercussions.
While The Circle starts off on a relatively good fit, it eventually becomes bogged down with rushed pacing and too much techno-babble that in effect doesn’t mean anything, or at least, uses complex language to mask a fairly simple narrative. The introduction of micro-sized cameras by its public representative Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks), in which the idea is put forward that The Circle is able to watch over anyone at any given time creates heightened suspicion, in addition to how they believe that ‘secrets are lies’, and that a fully transparent identity is the way to be. This sets the stage for questioning their motives, though anyone with a conscience should be able to see the upshot of this, making Mae’s decision to not only go along with it but actually make it her mission to improve on this mission questionable. Yes, we live in a society controlled by technology already, and The Circle attempts to show what would happen if this idea was pushed to the brink, but it lacks the tension to make its concerns as effective as it wants to be, and while it combats issues that are prevalent today, isn’t able to make one feel truly scared for what it posits or even make a solid claim for whether social media is good or bad.
A great cast is assembled, but aren’t given a whole lot of interesting character moments respectively. As the protagonist Mae, Emma Watson recieves the lion’s share of attention, as she attempts to understand more about The Circle and the intent beyond making their platform omniscient to the point where anyone who isn’t registered within their confines is labelled a threat. Watson works to the best of her abilities as relegated by the screenplay, though beyond a couple moments of exposition she’s dull as a doorknob. As the co-founder Eamon Bailey, Tom Hanks manages to add charm as the public face of the company, and when he’s on screen you can’t help but feel like the film is picking up, as his everyman abilities lend well to the character. In a strange bit of miscasting, comedic actor Patton Oswalt feels out of place as CEO Tom Stenton, who comes across as the more business focused of The Circle’s leaders. Oswalt is no stranger to dramatic work in films like Big Fan, and is fairly likeable on his own, but it’s hard to take him seriously here. Elsewhere, John Boyega gets an interesting role as Ty Lafitte who sees The Circle’s alterior motives in keeping a watch over everyone, Karen Gillan as Mae’s overworked best friend Annie, Ellar Coltrane as Mae’s social hating ex-boyfriend Mercer, and in his final on-screen role to date, the late Bill Paxton as Mae’s multiple sclerosis-suffering father Vinnie.
Given its cast and director, The Circle is a major disappointment. I’m not exactly sure why Dave Eggers’ novel needed to be adapted, while a bestseller upon release in 2013, it’s far from his best works, and seems like an attempt to capitalize on growing paranoia revolving around the world of social networks and constant surveillance. As someone who’s a fan of Ponsoldt’s past features like The Spectacular Now and Smashed, I’m sad that his first mainstream outing amounts to such a missed opportunity. I’m sure he will rebound with another small-scale indie feature, but as far as The Circle goes, you would be much better off staying home and watching a couple episodes of Black Mirror over throwing money at this.