James Ponsoldt's The Circle is a savvy piece of social commentary on our modern obsession with technology and the boundaries it sometimes oversteps. Unfortunately, performances by Emma Watson, Tom Hanks and John Boyega are less than ecstatic and the film's script is a bit dull, leaving that feeling of wasted potential.
The Circle is the latest film from indie filmmaker James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now, Smashed) that attempts to provide on-the-nose commentary on society’s obsession with technology and connectivity through a stylish and fairly digestible lens. It doesn’t hurt that The Circle stars Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, John Boyega and Patton Oswalt, yet somewhere between Ponsoldt and Dave Eggers‘ script, The Circle fails to deliver anything more than a possible glimpse at our future, with not much of an idea as to how we can change or prevent it.
And maybe that’s the point? Initially, The Circle starts off just like any other drama, revealing the character of Mae (Watson) through everyday eyes. She’s a temp, trying to find a better job. She also loves her family and feels awful about her dad’s (played by the late Bill Paxton) medical condition. She also has a quiet and shy friend that she only lets in when it’s convenient.
Mae isn’t perfect, but she’s the living embodiment of what it feels to be an outsider looking in, until she gets introduced to the Circle and slowly starts to see how the company’s massive technological grasp can potentially change the world.
There’s an early on discussion between Mae and John Boyega‘s Ty that compares the Circle to every other Kool-Aid drinking cult that I felt was completely necessary, if not revealed a little too late. The Circle operates as a film that’s already mostly accepted this massive tech company as something that should totally become apart of our everyday world.
There’s government officials that disagree and get a few minutes of the film to voice the opinion of people that see the Circle as more bad than good, but most of the film assumes that the world is already okay with this kind of evasive technology in our homes and on our person at all times.
This is where the film kind of lost me and I found that quite interesting, especially being such a tech enthusiast. There’s no hidden subtext to be drawn here, the Circle is without a doubt an Apple on steroids company, full of branded tech and “radical” thinking that is hoping to shape the world within its own self-controlled eco-system.
Heck, the speeches that Tom Hanks‘ Bailey delivered were no-doubt trying to copy the late Steve Jobs and while I appreciated having those real-life comparisons to draw, I didn’t care for how openly accepted the film perceived the Circle as.
Modern society is definitely on board with social networking and “smart” devices that make for a “smarter” life, but a film depicting the Circle’s uprising would’ve been much more exciting than the recycled concepts used within this film.
The Circle follows Mae as she dives deeper down the rabbit hole and willingly drinks the Kool-Aid, despite her initial hesitation and logic. For what reason, aside from maybe helping her parents out? This is what frustrated me as Emma Watson‘s character went from relatable to blind sheep in what appeared to be a five minute gap.
In one scene, she’s debating the morality of the Circle with John Boyega‘s Ty, one of the founding fathers of the Circle and then the next she’s openly throwing away her privacy because Bailey (Hanks) asks her politely.
It makes little sense and it robs the film of any actual turmoil, until the film’s final act, which is mostly just a forced scene of emotion and conflict to suddenly change Mae’s view on the Circle, as if the weird politics weren’t already completely obvious.
What makes matters worse is that almost all of the film’s performances are subdued, despite the lacking script’s need for a little flavor and excitement.
Emma Watson sucks the life out of the room in almost every scene, despite normally being an okay talent. Tom Hanks and Patton Oswalt are used just as poorly, playing the film’s obvious “bad” guys with nothing more than a few moments of questionable intentions. They’re honestly the world’s nicest and coolest bad guys, until the film’s final moments suddenly decides to give them both a dark past that is never detailed or followed-up with.
And for whatever reason, John Boyega is used as sparingly as possible, despite giving the film its potential kind of twist? I was honestly confused why his character even existed, if only for the film’s last five minutes. He does nothing else the entire film and apparently can wonder around and creep into whatever he wants at the Circle, because he’s a founder. For a company that’s all about watching and analyzing, they did a very poor job of keeping tabs on one of the original founders and clearly one of the smartest guys working within the company.
James Ponsoldt and Dave Eggers‘ script isn’t awful, but incredibly generic and underwhelming. Its relies on the flashy visuals that help paint the Circle as a company and the technology behind it as next-level stuff, but it’s all too familiar when you strip things down and focus on what the film is trying to say.
Technology can be used for great things, but it can also be used for awful things. Privacy and the general human nature of people should always be accounted for when designing such tech, yet the Circle as a company seems to boast these concepts, yet blatantly ignore them.
The Circle is more of an interesting look at the rise of a unified power among the world and less of an interesting film about technology and how it continues to encompass all aspects of our lives. I found myself wanting to learn more about the Circle as a company and how it became so dominant and less on what it plans to do with the millions of tiny cameras that it has installed across the globe, with no permission or privacy laws agreed upon.