Movie Review: The Circle (2017)

Image: The Circle movie posterImagine what Facebook and Google might become in the near future, with a missionary zeal to compel the entire world to share everything, all the time. That’s what David Eggers did in his 2011 cautionary cyber-‘satire’ The Circle, brought to the screen with director James Ponsoldt and the star power of Emma Watson and Tom Hanks.

Cross The Social Network with a cyber-thriller such as, err, The Net and see an uber-Facebook-Google-Apple tech-giant get carried away with itself with disastrous consequences.

Watson, pre-Beauty and the Beast, swaps Hogwarts for Silicon Valley to play American as every-girl Mae Holland, a lowly customer service rep recruited into The Circle by best friend Annie (a fine and very Scottish Karen Gillan without the Guardians‘ prosthetics).

Mae quickly gets caught up in the ‘share-everything’ ethos of social network The Circle, in large part due to the charisma of visionary, Steve Jobs-like CEO Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks – Cloud Atlas, Bridge of Spies).

Rapidly indoctrinated into the Stepford Staff culture, Mae becomes more than a cheer-leader as the first full-time, online-all-the-time ‘transparent’ life within The Circle.

Hanks has an absolute ball delivering the company ra-ra pep-talks and product launches, while COO Tom Stanton (TV’s Patton Oswalt) is suitably shifty as the political mover of the company.

Whilst Annie accelerates toward burn-out, the only other sceptical voice is that of discontented co-founder Ty Fleet (an earnest cameo by John Boyega – Star Wars).

As Circle poster-girl Mae’s indoctrination gets her to think the unthinkable and everyone starts to get carried away with the possibilities of the technology, it takes a personal and very public tragedy to bring Mae to her senses.

While it isn’t exactly subtle in its treatment of social media, The Eggers/Ponsodlt script doesn’t go overboard in the possibilities or the technology used; it is all scarily close at hand, so close that I’m not even going to classify it as Sci-Fi; this is now – which is one of it’s problems. It does ask very pointedly that we examine this brave new world that we’re sleep-walking into, and it poses a lot of moral questions, without going into the detail behind any of them. Year 10, Philosophy and Ethics 101, hand in your papers at the end…

The techno-sceptics will say we’re already in this world, while the techno-philes will shrug and say ‘so what’? Which is exactly what audiences said on its cinema release – it tanked.

For a movie with so many interesting ideas, relevance and timeliness, superbly realised and as glossily packaged as an Apple Corp. campus, The Circle never really joins up. The satire doesn’t really bite, the thrills aren’t particularly thrilling and the whole ‘death of privacy’ thing is so 2010. I know it’s not Ghost in the Shell, but it isn’t Black Mirror either. It is perfectly serviceable entertainment, nothing wrong with that. But

Like so many adaptations of novels, it lacks the space and the interior monologue to deliver all the threads of Eggers story, which means a promising set-up is flattened out to a less than thrilling movie.

While Emma Watson is excellent, hers is such a mannered performance it really needs someone with the openess and charisma of a Shailene Woodley, Chloe Moretz, The Fanning sisters, or Saiorse Ronan (or, just a thought, a non-white actress?).

And, as open endings go, surely walking through a sunlit doorway after a big reveal really must be in the verboten clich├ęd finishes of all time? RC

The Circle (2017)
Director: James Ponsoldt
Writers: James Ponsoldt, Dave Eggers
Certification: PG-13
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Runtime: 110 min
Cast: Tom Hanks, Emma Watson, John Boyega, Karen Gillan, Bill Paxton, Patton Oswalt, Glenne Headly, Ellar Coltrane