The Circle (Ponsoldt; 2017)

The Circle is an adaptation of the novel by the same name by Dave Eggers who also worked on the screenplay alongside director James Ponsoldt.  It’s the story of Mae (Emma Watson), a young woman searching for a job which pays enough that she can help her rural working class, now unemployed, parents care for her father’s (Bill Paxton in his final film role) multiple sclerosis.  Her friend Annie (Karen Gillian) gets Mae an interview with The Circle, a tech firm in which Annie is a high ranking member of the inner circle (no pun intended).  Mae nails the interview, gets the job, and quickly rises up in the ranks of the company discovering along her meteoric journey that The Circle’s agenda may be far more nefarious than it seems on the surface.

If that summary seems trite, it is, but you haven’t heard the half of it.  If just being trite was this film’s only problem, I’d say I don’t recommend it and promptly forget about it ten minutes after writing this review.  But, the surface of the film The Circle is at least as rotten as the underbelly of the company The Circle.  The best part of the film is its cinematography and visual effects, these are best because while they are in no sense of the word creative nor innovative, they at least aren’t utterly incompetent.  The visual effects are almost entirely computer user interfaces overlayed on top of the action going on in the movie, and the camera work was little more than point the camera where stuff is going on, but the visuals at least had the skill of an infomercial.

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As for the script, well I hope you like infomercials, because large chunks of this movie, nearly every time Tom Hanks is on screen, are fictional TED Talk style infomercials, and that isn’t even the screenplays worst transgression.  Almost all of Tom Hank’s scenes and almost all of the scenes which further the plot occur as a corporate mass meeting where hundreds of sit in a theater as The Circle’s founder Bailey (Hanks) gives a speech complete with Blu-tooth headseat outlying The Circle’s latest product and how wonderful it is, how it will change the world, and how proud everyone should be to be a part of this great company.  It’s probably meant to be unsettling and imply to the audience that something creepy is going on at The Circle, but that is so obvious just from the premise of the film, that we don’t need these scenes to imply that, let alone over and over again.

The other problem with these scenes and the ultimate problem with the script overall, is that the vision of this film is so flaky, so scattered, so unfocused, that I have no idea what the film makers’ point is.  Is this a satire of our Facebook obsessed society?  Is this a warning about how we are gradually losing all right to privacy in our society?  Is it saying privacy is overrated and we function far better as a culture with true transparency?  I have no idea.  These are all topics touched on, as are holding our leaders up to the same standards we are, the way the internet has transformed how we interact with each other, and a few other “Black Mirror” style topics, but when all is said and done I can’t figure out what lesson or viewpoint, if any, the writers and director wanted me to walk away with.   Every one of the topics I mention above was touted as both a positive and a negative, but the film’s end suggests that Ponsoldt and Eggers intended us to walk away with a message, they just did a horrid job at getting across which message it is.

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There is one aspect of The Circle which is even worse than its writing, and that is its acting.   Tom Hanks performance is essentially just a charming Tom Hanks style infomercial, and as awful as that sounds to watch for close to two hours, it is the best performance on display here.  Emma Watson is once again wooden and robotic,  seemingly incapable of showing any emotion or displaying any passion, convincing me more and more that she just is not a good actress and perhaps she should have retired after hanging up Hermoine.  I hope that is not the case, and she finds something within herself eventually, but nearly everything she’s done since Harry Potter has been barely watchable.  Most of the other cast members line up with Watson where wooden and dull is concerned, but one performance, that by Ellar Coltrane as Mercer is so horrible, it could be the origin of a drinking game, and I honestly can’t see how it made its way into a professionally made movie.  Coltrane somehow manages to scream every line without any emotion to them whatsoever as he stares blankly at something off screen for every second he is on screen.  It’s seriously embarrassing and the only reason it won’t be a front runner for a Razzie at year’s end, is because its a smaller role in a film very few are going to even remember.

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Final verdict:  Emma Watson hasn’t shown the greatest judgement when it comes to choosing her film roles since she finished Harry Potter, so that may explain how she came to be in this travesty of a movie, but Tom Hanks had to have been blackmailed.  That’s the only explanation I can think of.  The Circle is a movie that defies genre, but not because it’s so original, rather because it has no idea what it wants to be or what it wants to say.   Nearly everything about the movie is amateurish and uncomfortable, and the only reason I would ever recommend it is for some sort of MTS3K party in which a lot of drinking is involved.  Then I could see it actually being kind of a blast.

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