Review: The Circle
Imagine a world where the smartest people are also the dumbest. Where the pulp of truly interesting political questions is reduced to popcorn paranoia. Where we breeze by questions of consequence and focus instead on inane melodrama in a way that turns universal questions into stunted navel-gazing. That is the world The Circle inhabits. It is not without its charms, but they are so few and far between and so outnumbered by the head-scratching plot points that it would be hard to argue this is anything other than a mess. The result is simultaneously flat and uneven; empty and jumbled. The contradictions abound and the experience is ultimately more frustrating than anything else.
The Circle follows protagonist, Mae Holland (played by Emma Watson), who has a dead end job as a telemarketer when we meet her. Down on her luck and with little-to-no money, her fortunes turn when her friend Annie (played by Karen Gillian) gets her an interview at The Circle, a technology company that is a mashup of Facebook, Google, Apple, etc. Once hired, Mae unknowingly meets the reclusive founder of the company, Ty Lafitte (played emptily by John Boyega), who warns her that things need to change at the company.
At this time, the head of the company, Eamon Bailey, is working hard to create new products, which quickly start to curb the privacy of its users. As Mae rises up the ranks, she loses touch with her humble family life (including a childhood friend played by Ellar Coltrane) and is thrust into the forefront as these characters grapple with the real world implications of the technology they are developing. When tragedy strikes, Mae decides to take action to protect humanity from the potential ill-effects of all that The Circle is up to.
My principal gripe with the film is that is just not very well made. From Boyega and Watson's horrendous accents, to Ellar Coltrane's listless performance, most of what is on screen is a disaster. All underguirded by a problematic screenplay that needs to have a jackhammer taken to it rather than a scalpal. Boyega's Lafitte character, for instance, falls into the "Magic Negro" trope so cleanly that I am pretty sure the filmmakers are blithely unaware of the term. He does nothing and exists only to ease the passage of our white protagonist. Couple that with the film's seeming inability to make a coherent point about the surveillance technology at its core and it is hard to see why this story was told at all.
If there is anything to recommend here, it is what you see in the trailers. From the comprehensive campus to the casual culture, it more or less captures the look and feel of the tech giants on which it is modeled. But beyond that superficial gloss, there is so much wrong here and most of it stems from the fact that the source material seems fairly lazy. The data Facebook and Google collect every day has the potential to raise a myriad of fascinating questions. And while every so often the film will graze one of them, it never grapples with them in a way that does them justice or even approaches them with a thoughtful point of view. Instead, the screenplay wanders around like a three year old at an Easter Egg hunt who just seems happy to be there.
Take, for instance, the idea that The Circle could become a quasi-governmental registry for voting, identification or whatever else. The film includes this possibility, but saunters right by the danger at the heart of the discussion. It seems much more interested in clichéd exchanges than digging into the nuance of any one issue. And nowhere is this clearer than its comically bad ending that leaves no doubt that all involved had nothing to say. Pretty pictures and vapid dialogue are all that is on the agenda here and you should do everything you can to not be ensnared.
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