Nestled somewhere deep inside of “The Circle” lies an interesting concept for a movie. Maybe it was bad creative choices. Maybe the Dave Eggers novel didn’t translate well from book to screen. I’m guessing it’s a combination of both that shortchange this film adaptation. There are certainly some filmmaking decisions that don’t pan out and you would like to think the tech-heavy story is better explored in Eggers’s novel (which I haven’t read).
“The Circle” is directed by James Ponsoldt who also wrote the screenplay along with Eggers. Their story tinkers with modern themes of privacy, interconnectivity, and even Information Age totalitarianism to a degree. It all sounds nice a relevant. Problem is it’s all squished together in a half-baked of soup of clumsy execution, unbelievable story angles, and underdeveloped relationships.
Emma Watson plays Mae Holland, an aimless twenty-something stuck working a crummy job, driving a crummy car, and with a crummy social life. Things perk up when her best friend Annie (Karen Gillan) gets her an interview at The Circle, a Silicone Valley tech corporation in the mold of Apple, Google, etc. Mae gets hired (to what position I still haven’t figured out) and is soon grafted into the company’s cultish hipster culture.
Tom Hanks plays Eamon Bailey, the company’s Steve Jobs-ish CEO who has his predominately millennial employees under his charismatic spell. He opens the door for Mae to climb the corporate ladder by becoming the face of his push for more control of the world’s information. Mae’s rise makes her a celebrity on campus but distances her from her family and friends.
A key conflict in the film pits Mae’s old personal life again her new life of success and popularity at the Circle. The film struggles to make Mae’s personal life worth caring about. Her parents are played by Bill Paxton and Glenne Headly, the two genuine characters in the entire movie. Paxton’s Vinnie struggles with MS while Headly’s Bonnie is his strong supportive caregiver. They are easy to care for but much of that comes from the real life circumstances. Both Paxton and Headly died this year adding an extra emotional punch to these final performances.
“The Circle” tries to offer up a thought-provoking critique but ultimately it’s more goofy than provocative. First off it’s simply impossible to believe in The Circle as an actual organization and it’s even harder to believe in the many characters who bought into it. And in this world don’t underestimate the power of the frownie face emoji in foreign policy. And then you have Mae stepping out and becoming ‘transparent’. It’s meant to be a big deal step forward when it’s nothing more than a souped up YouTube channel
Several other things stand out. Ellar Coltrane (“Boyhood”) plays Mae’s shy childhood friend. They do some interesting things with his character before it runs off the rails but it’s hard to enjoy it because Coltrane’s performance is so bad. And then you have John Boyega, a welcomed addition but he the story completely wastes him.
Despite its many sour notes “The Circle” isn’t unbearable. It moves along pretty well and it keeps your attention. But I wonder if that’s due to good filmmaking or to my bubbling curiosity that just couldn’t wait to see where this mess would go next. Regardless of what it teases, “The Circle” doesn’t really go anywhere and that may be its biggest flaw – lots of potential, practically all of it wasted.
VERDICT – 2 STARS
This was such a disappointment. I liked the book quite a bit, but Emma Watson was a terrible lead and they changed a few big moments that ruined it for me.
And you can see that. It truly felt like a case of a good book chopped up and changed for a mediocre movie. Not impressed at all.
Yeah one of the worst of year and possibly worst Tom Hanks movie
And such a wasted opportunity. I could see a potentially good blueprint but this movie certainly didn’t follow one.
It was the tone of condescension and the air of superiority that the narrative adopted that really irritated the heck out of me. I had a hard time getting through it haha
I understand. It became somewhat laughable once you realize the direction things are going. It was good seeing Bill Paxton one more time.
Not sure why Tom would even be involved in this film, and Emma well she’s overrated in opinion!
I’m not sure why Tom took this part. And I’m not a huge Emma fan. She definitely can’t carry this film.
2 stars, might give this a miss. Though your review was excellent as always Keith.
Thanks so much my friend. Don’t worry, you won’t be missing out.
I trust your judgement, Keith.
Such a messy movie which like you say had potential but decided to forget where it left it. Almost completely unclear what the role John Boyega’s character was. Probably some kind of mentor type but it was unbelievable nobody knew who he was.
Oh man. Boyega was completely wasted in this movie. Such an underwritten and under-explained character. You could say that about a lot of this film.
SOunds like a big waste.
It’s frustrating. There is a lot of promise there. Sadly practically none of it is utilized.
I actually read the entire book before I saw the movie. It could have been much better. It’s 504 pages so I knew they’d cut things out, but I felt they missed the point. I agree that the concept is there, but the execution is all wrong. I reviewed the movie too if you want to read it: https://mastermixmovies.wordpress.com/2017/04/29/theyre-watching-you/
I’ll be sure to read your take on it. I figured the movie was extremely stripped down compared to the book. It felt like it. You see the concept laid out and you can’t help but believe there’s some interesting stuff to explore there. But it feels as if the vast majority of those ideas were left in the book and not brought to the screen. The movie really suffers as a result.