Movie ReviewsThe Circle – A Hollow Anti-Utopian Film

Keith NoakesApril 29, 2017

Tom Hanks is my favorite actor but I’ve been consistently disappointed by his recent films. Here he plays a shady CEO of a super social and tech company. Will this change anything? Suffice it to say that my expectations are low for this one.

Synopsis: When Mae is hired to work for The Circle, the world’s largest and most powerful tech and social media company, she sees it as the opportunity of a lifetime. As she rises through the ranks, she is encouraged by the company’s charismatic founder, Eamon Bailey, to engage in a groundbreaking experiment that pushes the boundaries of privacy, ethics, and ultimately her personal freedom. Her participation in the experiment, and her every decision begin to affect the lives and future of her friends, family and that of humanity.  (Elevation Pictures)

Starring: Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, and John Boyega

Writers: James Ponsoldt and Dave Eggers

Director: James Ponsoldt

Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 110mins


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This had all the makings of a great film, as mentioned, however things didn’t quite materialize here. Over time, certain tech companies have gotten bigger and bigger until they’ve gotten out of control. This was, more or less, what the film was supposed to be about, however, it failed to achieve this.

We get to experience this through a new employee of an amalgamation of today’s big tech companies called The Circle named Mae Holland (Watson). She began to feel overwhelmed by the sheer size of the company and their radically different way of doing things once she arrived but she eventually got used to it and quickly started to make a name of herself. One of the problems with the film was that it focused way too much on Mae because the film wasn’t sure what it wanted to be. This ended up creating many dangling subplots.

It was easy to tell from the trailers that this film was going to warn us on the overdependence of technology and the film itself wasn’t exactly subtle about it. This message would have had more of an impact if the film world had at least some semblance of believability. The Circle was a social and tech company so technology was obviously everywhere with the film incessantly reminding us of this. From the Jobs-esque presentations by The Circle’s co-founder Eamon Bailey (Hanks), to the various caricatures of The Circle employees, to the technological utopia of The Circle, everything was just too heavy-handed and contrived to believe.

Of course the film offered Mae some counterbalances to The Circle with her parents Bonnie (Glenne Headly) and Vinnie (Bill Paxton in his last film role), her childhood friend named Mercer (Ellar Coltrane), and the cliche man on the inside named Ty (Boyega). Mae cared for her parents, especially for Vinnie since he was dealing with multiple sclerosis. This raised the stakes, to a degree, for Mae as working for The Circle would mean that he would be covered by their insurance. The film pretty much ignored them from that point on.

Ty brought her down to the basement to tell her the truth about The Circle and nothing happened after that. Mercer represented that one friend on the outside to remind her of what she used to be. There may or may not have been something between them romantically but he was also pretty much ignored until he was needed to awkwardly get the story back on track and then stumble through the finish line.

The main problem with the film was that all the characters were so underdeveloped to the point of not caring. It was next to impossible to sense Mae’s motivations from beginning to end. Bailey was supposedly a shady tech CEO although we never got enough of him to get a real sense of this, only showing signs near the end of the film. The film hinted at various wrongdoings by The Circle but the film never explored any of it. There was nothing to Ty. He spent most of his time in the background, stepping out once to reveal the truth about The Circle with the film not choosing to do anything with it afterwards.

The dialog wasn’t the greatest either and despite the script’s many shortcomings, the acting was okay on average with Watson and Hanks being the standouts. Watson was engaging enough to watch and had decent chemistry with Hanks and Boyega in the few scenes they had together. Hanks was believable here as a sort of villain, perhaps phoning it in. Unfortunately, we barely got any of him at all here, likewise for Boyega. He was okay but in his case, the film would have worked just as good without him which wasn’t his fault. Headley and Paxton were okay as Mae’s parents but it is worth mentioning that Coltrane just looked lost as Mercer.

Overall, this was a hollow film that badly missed the point it was trying to make, saying so much while saying nothing at all. This was thanks to its mediocre script, unbelievable and contrived story, and underdeveloped characters. Watson and Hanks elevate it slightly but not by much. This is definitely one of the worst films of the year.

Score: 3.5/10

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  • film4fan

    April 29, 2017 at 10:58 AM

    To bad, I was expecting quite a lot of it, not only because of the cast, but they also had a pretty good director behind the camera. Good review!

  • Jason

    April 29, 2017 at 11:36 PM

    The movie has a good premise and well-liked cast assemblage, but its all (story, character development, and bullet points) are all poorly executed. Such a shame as this movie had promise.

  • thefilm.blog

    April 30, 2017 at 2:42 AM

    Bit gutting because I enjoyed the book and found it to be full of ideas that really got under my skin. On the other hand, not surprised because the book is more ideas-loaded than plot driven and occasionally suffers from heavy handed contrivances. Such an impressive cast list on paper though…shame!

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  • converseit

    May 1, 2017 at 2:01 PM

    Great review! I have to say though I think Emma Watson is an extremely overrated actress generally. I know she was given a poor hand by the writers here but I think she has only given us a handful of good performances, other than them she has been bang average…

    • Keith Noakes

      May 1, 2017 at 4:08 PM

      I can’t think of anything outside of the Harry Potter movies.

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