Director: James Ponsoldt
Screenplay: James Ponsoldt, Dave Eggers
Starring: Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, John Boyega, Karen Gillan, Ellar Coltrane, Patton Oswalt, Glenne Headly, Bill Paxton
Runtime: 110 Minutes
Satirical commentary surrounding new technologies in 21st century society can strike a chord with audiences when applied with the right amount of heightened levity to balance the scales, such as Charlie Brooker’s seminal anthology series Black Mirror. The Circle, adapted from Dave Eggers’ 2013 novel, aims for a similar takedown of technology companies like Google and the extroverted nature of social media platforms and how information is being shared and mined by corporations for their own means.
What The Circle almost entirely lacks is an actual point to any of its conceited ideas concerning such realities and entities. Instead, it chooses to vapidly wallow in a small-minded mindset that villainises the fictitious corporation of the story – 'The Circle' – without ever taking into consideration the depths of what it’s trying to say.
We follow Emma Watson’s Mae Holland as she enters 'The Circle' and is slowly seduced by the perks of the job and the position that it places her in as a wizkid in the corporate sector of its Silicon Valley-esque facility of millennials and clear office spaces. As her arc unfolds she begins to suffer the consequences of living her life constantly online and the circumstances of how much 'The Circle' and its founders know about her – played by Patton Oswalt and Tom Hanks.
James Ponsoldt is a talented filmmaker who is capable of drawing out a palpable sympatric response in his other dramatic work, but beyond his ability to photograph actors though Darren Aronofsky collaborator Matthew Libatique’s recognisably nice cinematography, the actual humanity that is being put on show barely boils down to beats. Instead, it’s more like the outlines of drama are laid down to allow audiences to automatically pour their sympathies into its unfeeling, ribbed shapes of hollow sentiment toward its characters.
The bigger problem becomes slowly evident as the movie trundles toward its deserved anti-climax; the actual intentions behind the apparent villains of the piece are never really explained further than formless gestures toward some shady dealings that may or may not be going on. The film never comes to a conclusion as to what their scheme or long-term goal is beyond extensive data mining, which was the exact same problem to be found of the titular organisation in Spectre. The only point appears to be that sharing information all the time and living under public scrutiny would be a chore, and an incident in the second act involving her technophobic not-boyfriend played by Boyhood’s Ellar Coltrane is a gut-busting display of over-the-top hilarity that tries to pass itself off as a tragedy.
The film has clearly been passed between hands with a stale taste following it around, cut drastically to the point where entire prospective sub plots, like Karen Gillan’s high-ranking Circle member and having John Boyega on hand for no reason, fritter out into nothing without being made clear. The cast might be great, but there’s nothing to their actual characters.
The Circle is one of the emptiest techno-thrillers to emerge in years, a film that looks as slick and sharp as the Apple knockoffs it's emulating, but offers nothing in the way of emotional connectivity with the audience beyond cold and calculated stabs at commentary that never even land.