© Universum/Walt Disney

The Circle
United Arab Emirates/U.S.A. 2017

Opening 7 Sep 2017

Directed by: James Ponsoldt
Writing credits: James Ponsoldt, Dave Eggers
Principal actors: Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, John Boyega, Ellar Coltrane, Glenne Headly

Dave Eggers’ novel The Circle is brilliantly insidious, which is the premise Eggers and co-screenwriter-director James Ponsoldt employ. The more frequent the technological changes – computerized banking, social media, Internet shopping, driverless automobiles, et al. – the more acquiescent people are to personal intrusions. Which boils down to there being profits, winners, and losers; Ponsoldt rather quickly establishes that polar difference in the film.

Watson, in almost every scene, earns her money playing the under-challenged temporary-worker Mae. Mae’s dad’s (Bill Paxton) debilitating illness demands constant care from mom (Glenne Headly). As Mercer, Coltrane is Mae’s faultlessly honest childhood friend. Whereby Karen Gillan as Annie tells her friend The Circle is hiring. Hanks and Patton Oswalt play two of the powerful tech company’s three savvy, techie genius founders. Seemingly altruistic and champions of transparency, they prompt, promote, and are the Circlers best friends. Paramount for Circlers is being excited. Immersing herself in the corporate campus lifestyle, Mae is quickly recognized as “a natural,” yet the only person she can comfortably talk with (John Boyega) is off the grid to most. Only when “being transparent” has indescribable repercussions does Mae address a company-wide Dream Friday audience with a doozy of a proposal.

Production values are watertight: Danny Elfman’s music; Lisa Lassek and Franklin Peterson’s editing; Matthew Libatique shot entirely in California. Although the ending is a damp squib, the film’s theme is one we know, yet worth repeating: technology’s pervasiveness, governments and citizens’ dependency, and privacy concerns. How prepared are you to see change? What integral item will you check straightaway after The Circle? Think about it. (Marinell Haegelin)

Second Opinion

Mae (Emma Watson) is going through a rough patch. Her father is ill with severe MS, the family’s health insurance is inadequate and doesn’t cover all of the treatments, and to top it all off, her car is a rundown junker. Through a stroke of luck (and some nepotism from her friend Annie [Karen Gillan]), she snags a job working for The Circle, a massive tech company which is ever expanding their influence via social media and surveillance technology. At first, Mae is a bit skeptical of the “sharing is caring” attitude of her coworkers and the all-encompassing lifestyle, but she soon learns the ropes and becomes one of the company’s most adamant neophytes. However, there is always a niggling feeling that something isn’t quite right, and soon enough Mae begins to suspect that she is complicit in a system that may be the downfall of society.

While The Circle will certainly make you reevaluate how much information you share with your devices and social media accounts, the sloppy screenplay and underwhelming performances by the cast do not an instant classic make. Despite its lofty aim of deconstructing the cult-like obsession society has with technology and social media, what results is a rather soulless and overly simplistic analysis. The primary reason for this is the poor character development of Mae, the protagonist and the character from which the audience learns about the world. She is a feckless and ignorant character, whom the action occurs to and who never seems to think or ask the most logical of questions. Despite it being clear from very early on that something is very wrong with the company (and in fact, a character outright tells her so), she ignores this information until it directly affects her life in the most dramatic of ways.

Instead of The Circle being an interesting look at the benefits and dangers of the freedom of information and the loss of privacy, or a critique of mega companies like Google and Facebook, it instead devolves into a dramatic tale of the ignorance of one blatantly stupid woman. This is made all the worse by the bored performances by a rather stellar cast, all of whom seem to just be there for the paycheck (but then again, with a script like this one, perhaps there was little they could do).  The Circle’s failure to reach its own potential is disappointing to the extreme, particularly because it is such an important topic to younger audiences and society as a whole. There is a need for a film to properly address these topics in an accessible way, but unfortunately The Circle is neither the film we need, nor a particularly enjoyable or entertaining one either. (Rose Finlay)

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