MOVIE REVIEW: The Circle
“THE CIRCLE”-- 3 STARS
100% of you right now are reading this review via the internet on either a computer or a mobile device. That’s where we are. Like it or not, you and I leave digital footprints everywhere we go. The new pseudo-dystopian thriller “The Circle” incites the over-obvious social media and data-mining fears of our present surveillance society of sharing and shines them up into a shiny and engrossing yarn of mainstream entertainment. Fiction or not, it’s the kind of film that may or may not irk you enough to take that Facebook sabbatical you keep saying you’ll do for Lent or a New Year’s Resolution.
The film’s title is the name of a filthy rich and frighteningly powerful internet company with a gleaming work campus in Silicon Valley. Co-founded with unchecked hubris by the savvy tycoons Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks) and Tom Stenton (Patton Oswalt), The Circle is bolstered by having its systemic fingers in every data-driven pie of technological connection home and abroad, from social media and search knowledge to medical research and government programs. With names like TrueYou, SeeChange, PartiRank, and SoulSearch, the powerful programs and algorithms created by their tech savants, like Ty Lafitte (“Star Wars” lead John Boyega), for company brand go on to become essential and inescapable must-have apps, products, cloud-based services, and unified systems for the masses. This totalitarian agenda is sold as the consumption and betterment of community connectivity and unfiltered knowledge operating with endless metrics and real-time processing.
Emma Watson (with an impeccable American accent) stars as the excited Mae Holland, a fast-rising tech recruit within The Circle brought in by her friend Annie (Karen Gillan). As user of The Circle and now a customer experience employee for the company, she begins to cave and drink the Kool-Aid to the draw of immersive private participation and personal social advancement, leaving behind her technology-eschewing ex-flame Mercer (“Boyhood” star Ellar Coltrane) and her simpleton small-town parents (Glenne Headly and the late Bill Paxton, putting little layers on stock parts). To go one step further (as in “too far”), Mae becomes the first spokesperson of the company to go “transparent,” submitting herself to 24/7 public observation and tracking, earning her millions of followers.
Powered by a pulsating Danny Elfman score and the subtly voyeuristic camera of Aronofsky vet Matthew Libatique, “The Circle” resides at the mildest level of creepiness within the science fiction genre. Slickness outweighs subversive from each layer crafted by “The Spectacular Now” director James Ponsoldt. Still, all could have been elevated greater with more potent or evocative twists and turns in the denouement of its far-reaching premise. That said, I appreciate that “The Circle” stayed centrally cerebral without baited shortcuts to devolve the film with hokey and forced action movie machinations.
Watson is a very suitable and effective muse for what the film requires, an impressionable fresh face worthy of attention with the assertiveness underneath to push back. Tom Hanks’s natural California charm fits the personable snake oil for his Steve Jobs Lite role. Hovering at an observant upper level, he sneaks through “The Circle” without becoming a true villain, which is a shame. Along the same lines, Ellar Coltrane has a one-note contrarian performance and the lofty roles given to Patton Oswalt, John Boyega, and Karen Gillan have far too little detail and consequence to matter in the grand scheme of things. Double the shame.
You come to “The Circle” for the provocative thoughts. As preposterous as it really is, the intriguing topical parallels from Dave Eggers’s source novel are appealingly fascinating. The most circular aspect of “The Circle” is the repetition of its metaphorical mantras and simile statements, and the belabored points of its overt social commentary. Spewed lines like "secrets are lies," "sharing is caring," and "privacy is theft” hammer thumbtacks with jackhammers. For the many of us with our faces tilted down scrolling bright screens, the over-indulgent jackhammer might be the right attention-getting sound.
LESSON #1: PERSONAL CONNECTION BEATS SOCIAL CONNECTION-- Millions of measures and metrics tailor your web experience based on your activity preferences and behaviors. Essentially, those equations are educated guesses that The Circle wants to be “human, humane, and elemental” in bonding with its customers. Sorry, but only people can achieve those ideal adjectives. Socialize and have a relationship with a person, not a device.
LESSON #2: OPENNESS IS NOT THE SAME AS ACCOUNTABILITY-- Being an accessible person who says they have nothing to hide is a fallacy. No one can maintain that level of unrestricted obligation, liability, and responsibility for what complete openness really means.
LESSON #3: CHOOSE PRIVACY-- “The Circle” likes to debate rights versus requirements and declares the knowledge of “knowing everything” as a basic right, especially in a world where there is a camera of documentation and observation on seemingly every corner. Maintain a space of existence just for you. If you have forgotten, remember that none of your participation in social media is required. You are the controller and curator of your own content and all of it has an exit button and an off-switch.