A great cast is squandered in this so-called thriller that goes nowhere.
Directed and co-written by James Ponsoldt and based on a novel by Dave Eggers, who also co-wrote the screenplay, The Circle focuses on Mae (Emma Watson) as she goes from lowly customer service representative to boardroom conqueror at a ubiquitous tech company called The Circle – think of it as Facebook, Apple, and Google all mashed into one company. Along the way, she is guided by her overworked friend, Annie (Karen Gillan), the Steve Jobs-esque Bailey (Tom Hanks), and Mark Zuckerberg stand-in, Ty (John Boyega). After a brush with the law, in which she stupidly risks her life, Mae learns just how handy The Circle’s new technology, See Change, can be. The See Change program centers on putting marble-sized cameras all over the world so that The Circle can see and know everything. Despite being skeptical of The Circle when she started her job, Mae is now a full-on Kool-Aid drinker and she decides to “go transparent” and wear a See Change camera with her every minute of every day. Her time at the company has distanced her from her parents (Glenne Headly & Bill Paxton) as well as her childhood friend, Mercer (Ellar Coltrane). When she becomes more and more involved and begins helping the company launch programs and products, her decisions turn tragic. Mae then needs to decide what is more important to her: The Circle or the people in her life.
The marketing campaign for The Circle is one of the worst bait and switches I’ve ever seen in my life. Seriously. Anyone who has seen it should get together for a class action lawsuit against the studio. The studio is trying to sell this thing as a techno-thriller and it is anything but that. There is a subplot with Boyega’s Ty, where he hints at something sinister going on at The Circle, but Ponsoldt and Eggers never really show you what that is. Of course, there’s the general breaking down of the privacy wall, but that doesn’t really make for a thriller unless someone with information is being threatened. Every actor here is wasted in roles that go nowhere. Watson is good with what she’s given, but the filmmakers didn’t give her a clear arc to work with. Paxton has some good scenes as Mae’s MS-stricken father and Hanks does a good job playing Steve Jobs, but I was expecting Hanks to be some kind of evil mastermind or something and it just never materializes. The tech that the company creates is very cool, but the fact that everyone just rolls over and ignores how the technology could be abused is a little unrealistic. I know that’s a commentary on sycophantic tech culture in Silicon Valley, but it still didn’t jibe with me. I have no idea why Coltrane was cast in this film. He’s not that good of an actor, sorry. It made sense that Richard Linklater kept him throughout the filming of Boyhood – that was the experiment – but when there are at least a dozen other actors his age that could have played this part infinitely better, it makes no sense. The whole affair is just very sloppy and feels like a wasted opportunity.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, skip The Circle. While I like the majority of the actors involved, they are stranded in a boring story and a messy script. The technology presented is neat, but that’s not enough to power an entire film.