If we’ve learned anything in 2017, it’s that privacy is dead. Computer hacking on a global scale, murders and beatings streamed live on Facebook, and allegedly taped conversations in the Oval Office… secrets aren’t staying secret for very long anymore.
Mae Holland (Emma Watson, COLONIA) is a young and eager woman who feels she’s hit the jackpot when her best friend, Annie (Karen Gillan, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2), gets her an entry-level job in “customer experience” at The Circle. The Bay-area InstaSnapTwitAppleGooglebook tech company that’s everything social and more is run by co-founder Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks, SULLY; A HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING; SAVING MR. BANKS), a Steve Jobs-type visionary, who holds “Dream Friday” rah-rah sessions in the company’s mammoth amphitheatre where he welcomes new employees (called “guppies”) and rallies the Circlers (the rest of the employees) to buy into his vision of a world where nothing is private. At first, Mae is overwhelmed by company’s social tentacles but when two work colleagues chastise her in a “Stepford Wives” kind of way for being an enigma (their code word for someone not being more open about their interests and relationships), she throws caution to the wind and starts posting her life on The Circle’s social media platform. As her social ranking starts to climb, she begins to enjoy her new lifestyle, which includes Friday night campus parties featuring the group Beck in concert and living in the company dorm – a place that rivals many 4-star hotel suites.
Each day, Mae willingly concedes more of her privacy to the point where she decides to drink the company Kool-Aid and be the first employee to “go transparent”, meaning that her life will be online and on view 24/7. Think TV’s BIG BROTHER meets THE TRUMAN SHOW. While things go swimmingly well at first and she becomes the darling lieutenant of the folksy Bailey and his no-nonsense COO, Tom Stenton (Patton Oswalt, TV’s THE KING OF QUEENS), it doesn’t take long before she realises that giving up one’s freedom comes with a price.
Although THE CIRCLE is based on the 2013 novel by Dave Eggers (he also wrote “A Hologram For the King“) and directed by James Ponsoldt (THE SPECTACULAR NOW; THE END OF THE TOUR), the central theme of the story feels rather dated. Today, if you’re going to make a movie about the death of privacy and how technology is stripping us of our freedom, it better be so chilling that it scares the bejeesus out of us. THE CIRCLE doesn’t even nudge us awake. Quite simply, this film is about ten years too late. I am reminded of the 1995 film, THE NET, starring Sandra Bullock. That story was about identity theft, a concept that was just emerging back then. Now THAT was scary because very few realised how easy it could be to steal someone’s identity. Today, of course, is a different matter. Posting one’s life online for all to see has already happened and is widespread.
It also doesn’t help that the casting wasn’t well thought out. I like Emma Watson and she plays “sweet and naive” very well but when her character wakes up and smells the coffee, Watson doesn’t have the cojones to be convincing. Tom Hanks was an equally bad choice. Sure, Bailey is supposed to come across as everyone’s favourite uncle but in reality he’s ruthless. (No one possibly believes anymore that Mark Zuckerberg is a sweetheart except, maybe, his wife and mother.) That just doesn’t come through and, even so, it’s hard to imagine Hanks as a bad guy. Oswalt, on the other hand, fares well playing a guy who probably fried anthills with a magnifying glass as a kid but I felt he should have been smarmy as well – like someone who’s brilliant but you definitely don’t want to be left alone with him in a room. John Boyega (STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS) has a small but pivotal part in the film but you’ll be shaking your head not only with his performance but how his character is written. If I tell you more, I’ll be revealing too much so you’ll have to trust me on this one.
The greatest tragedy of this film, however, is that it’s the late Bill Paxton’s final film. Sorry, Bill. THE CIRCLE is a dud.
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