Review: Treacherous Transparency in 'The Circle'

Fred Hawson

Posted at May 05 2017 11:55 AM

Emma Watson is fresh from her box-office success with Disney's live action remake of "Beauty and the Beast." Here she is again with her new movie, joined by "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" breakout star John Boyega, the recently departed Bill Paxton (in his last film) and all-time favorite actor Tom Hanks. Even if I did not know exactly what the movie was about, with that cast list alone, this film promises to deliver the goods.

Mae Holland was accepted as a new "guppy" in the hip Internet company called The Circle. This company prides itself for being a single online place where its subscribers can access all their various other accounts and applications. They constantly develop technology, like tiny cameras which can randomly be placed anywhere, that will keep everyone up to date with everything around them in real time.

On the prodding of her friendly and charming boss Eamon Bailey who believed that "secrets are lies," Mae agrees to become "fully transparent" and have all Circle subscribers see her every move 24 hours a day. At first, Mae was on a high with her overnight international fame. She becomes aggressive in expressing her ideas in company meetings. Later on though, the company's insistent intrusion into her and other people's privacy eventually takes a tragic turn.

As Mae, Emma Watson projects a childlike earnest naivete like she did as Hermione Granger before. As she was written to be unrealistically clueless, it was really challenging for any actress to gain audience sympathy at all for this character. As Eamon Bailey, Tom Hanks was channeling Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, even Tony Stark or any other charismatic billionaire businessman whose every word inspired his blindly loyal flock of employees. This is Hanks' second film based on a Dave Eggers book after last year's not-so-good "A Hologram for the King."

John Boyega played Ty Laffitt, a enigmatic member of the Circle, who was actually much more than what he says. I wanted to see more of this character, but sadly he was not given the proper focus. Karen Gillan played Mae's friend Annie who told her about the job opening at the Circle. It is good to finally see what she looks like without her Nebula makeup and costume that obscured her face in the "Guardians of the Galaxy" movies. An amateurish Ellar Coltrane played Mae's ex-boyfriend Mercer who did not like Mae's current job.

The direction of James Ponsoldt of his own script (based on the 2013 novel by Dave Eggers) was rather confusing. There were a lot of questions about the plot that bothered me when the film ended rather abruptly, without a proper buildup. There were very interesting supporting characters, like Mercer, Laffitt and Annie mentioned above, whose characters were sadly not written to develop more clearly. There were scenes, like Mae in an underground tunnel with Ty or Mae kayaking at night, which were lit so poorly I could only assume what was happening thanks to the sound effects.

Despite a disappointingly shallow treatment though, this film is an uneasy precautionary message for a netizen like me (and most of us). Even at present, there are already companies who are uniting our internet activities -- like search engine, social media, applications, games, blog, e-mail, photos, videos, storage cloud -- all of which could be accessed with a single password. We do not give a second thought about this, and indeed, we find it all so convenient. Watching "The Circle" warns us of being too complacent about where all this could leading to. 6/10

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."