Ok, perhaps that’s a bit harsh. But just a bit.
The Circle is a horror movie in which is the monster is a creation sired by Facebook and Apple. Terrifying? It probably should be, but the hammer-to-the-head subtly of the film makes any timely message The Circle may wish to impart too far-fetched for to warrant concern.
Emma Watson plays Mae, a dissatisfied call-center worker who scores a job with the biggest company in Silicon Valley, “The Circle”, a fictional hybrid of tech innovators like Apple, Google, and various social media platforms. Everything seems great at first: the company is part of a massive compound complete with concert venues, support groups, and yoga; Mae’s co-workers are insistent on making her part of the company community; and the whole thing is headed up by the perpetually affable Tom Hanks (with his sour-faced partner Patton Oswalt looming cross-armed in the background). With all that going for it, it’s understandable that Mae makes just one tiny oversight: the company glaringly, blatantly evil.
Director and screenwriter James Ponsoldt clearly had a conflict of vision when planning out this film, indecisive between whether he wanted to make a straight-laced thriller or a parody. Employees of The Circle are so broadly played that they come off like characters from an SNL skit about working at Google. Nobody with even a minuscule amount of ethical standards would ever work for this company after seeing how flagrantly it treats little things like privacy. Seriously, this company wouldn’t even exist were it this open about its sinister activity. It takes only one speech by Tom Hanks’ character (delivered only ten minutes into the film) in which slogans like “secrets are lies” and “privacy is theft” receive applause and a standing ovation for this film to shatter under the weight of it’s own preposterousness.
Even the minor details of this movie are absurd. Mae rises from working in customer service to being on the board of this massive company in MONTHS. And she gets there by publicly committing a crime. What is this? I’m not even certain of what this company does. Is it a social media platform, is it a search engine? Inquiring minds need not bother.
The Circle sets up no conflict to drive itself forward and there is no tension or stakes until the final fifteen minutes. There’s not even a credibly threatening antagonist. Mae is only briefly morally conflicted and solves her problem with no resistance or consequences. And then the movie wants to have one of these nebulous, dystopian endings that it doesn’t earn or even bother to set up.
And no, alas, the film is not saved by its performances. One can see why they chose Hanks to play the Jobs-ian CEO of the company; anyone less friendly and avuncular saying the dialogue Hanks is given would have made the movie unwatchable. There’s one scene in which an intriguing motivation for the why of Hanks’ character is explored, which is more than can be said for anyone else in the film. Emma Watson’s Mae is thoroughly unlikeable; overly naive and easily-swayed, the movie can really be boiled down to just two hours of watching this girl make bad decisions. Not complicated decisions, just bad ones. Poor John Boyega, playing…I’m not sure, actually; the creator of The Circle, I think? It’s not well defined. He has some regrets and serves mostly to warn Watson that the company is evil, in hopes of finding an ally. Were he smart, he’d have gone for someone who didn’t need something so obvious explained to them.
There are good–well, that’s a stretch–there are things that aren’t awful or grossly ridiculous things about the film. Mae’s relationship to her parents (her father is played by Bill Paxton in, presumably, his final role) is quite touching, though they put up with more bullshit than most parents would tolerate. If you like looking at the Golden Gate Bridge there are some shots of it, so there you go. Look, I’m trying, ok? The movie didn’t give me much to compliment.
Verdict: Skip this silly b*llsh!t. Stay home and scroll through Facebook in an act of defiance.