With an all-star cast, sci-fi thriller The Circle foretells the dangers of complete social media transparency through the eyes of Mae Holland, tech-giant employee.
Emma Watson leads an all-star cast that includes Tom Hanks, John Boyega, Karen Gillan, Patton Oswalt, Glenne Headly and, in his last role before his death, Bill Paxton. The Circle is an adaptation of Dave Eggers’ best-selling novel of the same title.
The Circle didn’t receive a cinematic release in the UK. The film, instead, debuted on Netflix in June 2017.
Emma Watson stars as Mae Holland, a small town girl handed the opportunity to work for the world’s largest tech and social media company called ‘The Circle’. Tracking her career from humble beginnings as a customer service rep and throughout her rise in notoriety within the company as a social media experiment, life at The Circle is unlike anything else.
Picture Google or Facebook – on steroids. Where work is life and life is work. Each exists as an extension of the other. Holland is initially overwhelmed by the work/life culture of the company but quickly adapts with the help of long-time friend and high-level ‘Circler’ Annie (Karen Gillan – Guardians of the Galaxy).
However, a chance encounter with reclusive Circle developer Ty Lafitte (John Boyega – Star Wars: The Force Awakens) plants seeds of doubt about the company and its leadership into Mae’s mind. When a live social media experiment results in the death of Holland‘s longtime friend she is compelled to turn the technology against those responsible.
Assuming a convincing American persona for the purposes of this film, Emma Watson plays a small-town girl thrust into the clinically white, upbeat and glossy veneered existence of the world’s largest tech and social media company, ‘The Circle’ where we learn of a blinkered conviction to connect the planet’s population, no matter what.
Leading the revolution is the company’s enigmatic founder, Bailey – Tom Hanks lends his class to the role and shines with a charismatic performance tinged with a sinister undertone. As Bailey’s right hand man Stenton, Patton Oswalt finds the right level of smug to contrast with Hanks amenable tone.
What the film packs in A-list casting though, is readily undermined by a flimsy screenplay, lacklustre performance and mediocre cinematography.
Whilst Emma Watson pulls off playing the all-american girl, her performance as Mae Holland lacks a sense of genuine emotion. She always seems somehow disengaged and with a sympathetic world view rather than living that moment and feeling those feelings.
Admittedly her character is navigating the surreal environment of a passive aggressive workplace where everyone is happy, but not really. As Holland develops, rapidly gaining status within the company she becomes the first Circle employee to go completely transparent. Her entire waking life is online, emails, work, social life. The implications on her family and hometown friends is catastrophic, and yet, regardless of the pain and suffering caused through her involvement, she seems distant.
Her interactions with Ty Lafitte are fleeting. It’s entirely possible John Boyega filmed his scenes for the role in a single day, such is his involvement. And at no time does he even appear to be remotely bothered that he’s in the film at all. Remarkable then that his character is suggested to be responsible for such a pivotal shift in the film’s plot.
The lack of experience from director James Ponsoldt is evident. The film ebbs and flows in uneasy rhythms. Significant moments are rarely fully explored, moments are glossed over and the storytelling in general is somewhat vague.
Questions of ethics and responsibility are barely investigated throughout the narrative, things simply happen to move the story along. One could assume the filmmakers expect their audience to be like employees of The Circle. Obedient, sanitised and accepting.
Also, why the fuck is Beck (the musician) crowbarred into this film?
Essentially – and despite such a strong cast – The Circle looks and plays like a TV movie. Albeit, slightly better than your average TV movie.