With the world becoming increasingly dependent on technology, the interconnectivity of which is staggering, it was only a matter of time before films began tackling the dangers of too much tech, in a more realistic manner. While there have been stories in the past that warned about the reliance on technology in our everyday lives, The Circle seems less science fiction than those that have come before, because the technology involved is both a scary proposition, as well surprisingly close to what is currently available. The Circle, which is the name of the Google-esque company at the center of the film, is a Silicon Valley giant, and the film quickly presents all the ways in which the world relies on the products it develops to do just about everything. The film isn’t so much about the company itself, but more using the company as a stand in for tech companies as a whole, as there are elements not just Google, but Apple as well.
The Circle follows Mae, played by Emma Watson, as a new hire to the company. The film follows her as she learns the ropes, and gets integrated into the company that forces you to share everything on social media, and completely give yourself over to their lifestyle. The long time employees of The Circle are very cult like in their depiction, which fits for the story they are trying to tell, but this behavior never really seems odd, or out of place to Mae, so the potential for conflict, never comes to fruition. The greatest issue with this film is that it is relatively conflict free, so for most of the film’s two hour run time, Mae is simply going scene to scene. To the audience, things are escalating to a point that is beyond what most people would consider too far, but to Mae, and others in the Circle, everything is ok. Conflict does arise through Mae’s long time friend Mercer, who is more or less off the grid in terms of social media, and doesn’t like that his friend is getting swept up in this new world. While this would be a worthwhile thing to explore, and something that could potentially keep Mae grounded, Mercer is in the film so sparingly that anything he says or does has no emotional impact. Mercer isn’t the only character that suffers from being introduced, set up as being important and then disappears for large chunks of the film. Mae’s friend Annie, who gets her a job at The Circle, is present at the early stages of the film, leaves, then comes back as a broken and disheveled mess, just when Mae is gaining notoriety. The shift in character should present more a conflict for Mae, but since Annie has such a shift in character, it’s hard to care about it.
The main crux of the film is about privacy, and whether privacy is a good thing, or if privacy is considered lying, which leads to bad things happening. The argument that the film is trying to warn against makes sense, but it doesn’t do enough to make the situation meaningful. The heads of the Circle are very much anti-privacy, as they want everything out in the open for all to see, and for them to use. There is never any sinister motives to this, and initially, they want to use this thought process to get transparency in Washington, a noble effort indeed. However that transparency then turns into Mae wearing a body cam, and having her every move tracked, and broadcast to the world. There is no real reason for this, and it serves no purpose in the grand scheme of the film. Mae is also completely complicit in accepting this, where most people would balk at a 24hr live stream everyday of their lives. There are hints that this is a sinister plot by heads of The Circle, but nothing ever comes of it.
The issues with this film undercut what is a pretty good cast. Watson as the lead is good, though her facial acting is at constant odds with her character’s directions and motivation. She will go from having a puzzled concerned look, to be absolutely ok with what is being asked of her. The side characters she interacts with also never question her, so it does a disservice to the portrayal she gives. The heads of The Circle are Tom Hanks and Patton Oswalt, and Hanks has more of the screen time than Oswalt, and for the majority of time, he performance is simply to give Keynote style presentations. He does a good enough job in this role, but that is all he is really asked to do. He has scenes with Oswalt that hint at an underlying disingenuous nature, but its is never sinister enough, and doesn’t have a real payoff. Oswalt is portrayed as more of jerk, but only in a way akin to other heads of companies, so it never feels like something is amiss, even when it seems like the film wants you to think they are worse than they are at face value. Ellar Coltrane plays Mercer, in one of his only roles since Boyhood finally released, and his performance is fine given the limited scenes he is in, but again his character is too far removed from most of the film that the actor can never really give much to it. The same is true for Karen Gillan’s Annie, and her turn from peppy upbeat friend, to tired and broken enemy, is too drastic. While she plays both convincingly, the story doesn’t get her there via a logical progression, so it feels entirely out place. John Boyega is present here as well for no more than 3 or 4 short scenes, which are good, and in the beginning few look to set up something interesting, but his disappearing act makes his eventual return hollow and uninteresting. A lot is made of Mae’s parents, and Glenne Headly and Bill Paxton have a sizable role in the film. However their part of the story feels very separated from Mae’s, and they only come around when it attempts to show how Mae is making wrong choices, but since Mae then makes more wrong choices they feel wasted, as well as out of place.
Overall The Circle has a lot of problems, it has bad pacing, feels very disjointed, and doesn’t make use of the characters it presents. The film has a clear message but does such a poor job of presenting that message that it falls by the wayside. In a film that was clearly created to be a warning about technology, or even just a commentary about how technology is becoming a dependence, the end result feel neither poignant, nor troublesome, so the film lacks a certain punch. Even if the message hit home, the rest of the film is so lackluster that it still wouldn’t have been a good movie. Ultimately this is an entirely missable film, which is a real shame given the caliber of those involved.