Every couple days my phone gets a new update for Facebook or messenger, or snapchat or some other high tech gadget that every new age phone is being supplied with on start up. Ever since the invention and popularity of Facebook, it’s become less and less plausible to keep ourselves hidden from the digital world for very long. Not surprisingly, this rising level of anti-privacy has sparked many stories about the horrors of digital observation: “Eagle Eye”, “Paranoia” and “The Dark Knight” to name a few. “The Circle” is a small scope film with a relatively large message (and cast), that basically plays out what would happen if Apple was a nefarious company of digital puppet masters. We know it’s relevant, but is it worth watching?
Mae (Emma Watson) is excited to work for The Circle, the most powerful and advanced tech company in the world; specializing in data collection and personal communication and interfacing software, run by Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks). As she rises through the ranks though, she’s warned by a programmer (John Boyega) about the increasing risk of privacy laws being violated. After a special bit of experimental software is launched, Mae and the rest of the world learns of the disastrous consequences her mission has caused; affecting everyone’s ethics, privacies, and their lives as well.
Like I said, this is basically a “What if Apple went evil?” kind of story. A lot of the tech used in this film to spy on people and interact with others around the world is real life-based. The fiction in science fiction is rapidly being turned into reality. The problem with “The Circle” is the idea is more engaging and thought provoking than any of the people whose lives are being affected by this computer conspiracy. Themes of privacy being violated and society losing its ability to keep their personal lives personal are excellent groundwork for a compelling drama, and for the most part, the drama and threat feel grippingly real. But none of our stars or characters seems to act like they should be acting, or you know, ACTING at all sometimes. This is worsened by the fact that multiple potential story elements are glossed over when they should be given more notoriety.
For instance, Emma Watson (who sadly breezes through the role) has a relationship with a young man from her hometown played by Ellar Coltrane. His character suffers worst of all from this invasion of privacy, but consequences that come from the fallout don’t feel like they’re being taken as seriously and realistically as they should. It’s like the story didn’t realize the weight of what it had and just brushed by it; moving onto the next big thing without double checking with all the bugs, much like Samsung did with their now “famous” exploding phones. The music, the visual scope, and the eerily friendly-yet-frightening world “The Circle” presents is beautifully presented. It feels authentic and not overly cartoonish or spy movie villain’s lair, as in, I could see this company existing alongside the likes of its parodied companies (Google, Facebook etc.)
It’s a shame everyone is woefully underutilized because there are a lot of surprisingly big names and quality talents in this film. Besides the already mentioned Hanks, Watson and Boyega, there’s also Karen Gillian, Patton Oswald and the late-great Bill Paxton in his final role. The ending fails to really service a clear message; tangled up in its own wires and contradictory morals. The threat of this tech company invading everyone’s personal privacy was the driving force of the conflict in the first place. It’s that struggling force that makes this impactful because of how dangerously close this hits to home. However, half way into the film, the characters seem to think that eliminating ALL privacy is the only way to move forward and that is the only way to stop the parties responsible for personally gaining from holding all these secrets…even though even MORE people lose their secrets in the process…see what I mean? Because I don’t think the movie does.
Overall, “The Circle” structured itself with a solid framework, above average cast and a relatable thriller concept that says something to everyone’s generation in one way or another. But it barely uses 5% of the potential of its actors, its story elements and gets everything completely backward during the final act. The film slowly goes the wrong way, acting like this is the right way but never making full use of the goldmine of material and talent it’s sitting on. It’s a shameful loss that will ultimately fade into obscurity; forgotten and disconnected.
I give “The Circle” 1 ½ stars out of 4 stars.