THE CIRCLE Review: 6 out of 10 (Shades of Black Mirror)
THE CIRCLE is the latest near future film that comes based on a YA novel. These days that typically means shrugged shoulders and a hard pass for this reviewer. However, based on the cast alone, this film got its chance. I am kinda glad it did. THE CIRCLE is directed by James Ponsoldt and written by Ponsoldt and Dave Eggers, based on Eggers' 2013 novel of the same name. The film stars Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, John Boyega, Karen Gillan, Ellar Coltrane, Patton Oswalt, Glenne Headly, and Bill Paxton in what would be his final film appearance.
Mae (Emma Watson) is a young professional in a dead end job looking for new opportunities. When she is suddenly hired to work for the world's largest and most powerful tech & social media company (See: Apple, Google, or Facebook) she sees it as an opportunity of a lifetime. As a natural go-getter, Mae quickly rises through the ranks. Each part of the new technology the company showcases seems better and better for mankind and even personal use. Due to several circumstances, Mae is encouraged by the company's founder, Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks), to engage in a groundbreaking experiment of going "transparent" with her own life--televising her every move circa a sort of self-aware version of THE TRUMAN SHOW. That decision and its ripple effects begin to push the boundaries of privacy, ethics and ultimately Mae's personal freedom.
If that sounds like a BLACK MIRROR episode, you would be right. Fear and consequences of near-future tech have been a consistent theme in the BBC/Netflix series. THE CIRCLE offers a more mainstream, and yes, watered down version of these sort of cautionary high-tech tales. But at the center of this film is a pretty compelling performance by Emma Watson and some equally strong antagonistic CEO types in Tom Hanks and Patton Oswalt. These three alone bring the film some strong tension. Wasted here is John Boyega, who I could swear was even digitally added to a few scenes. Barely more than a dozen speaking lines, his character works only as a sort of convenience for the rest of the movie. Worse yet is Ellar Coltrane as Mae's low-tech friend and voice of morality for the film. Coltrane wasn't good as the older teen in BOYHOOD and he is flat out awful here in a character who truly needed to be good for this film to work completely. It was sad to see Paxton on screen for the last time, and even tougher to watch as he plays Mae's ill father who is suffering from MS. To see Paxton as a disabled man in his final performance makes it even tougher to swallow his recent passing. RIP
Having said that, THE CIRCLE gives some interesting ideas about the oncoming wave of social media and the synchronizing of all things technology. The film creatively puts some of the live comments of her own "transparent" experience on screen for the audience to see and react to just as she does. The movie offers a wide variety that feels very accurate--from comments on topic, random bits, trolls, and follower/stalkers. THE CIRCLE has its problems, including its sermonizing that seems to take a strange turn in the last few minutes of the film, but overall there are a lot of things that work here. Mild recommend.