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The Circle

The Circle

Based on Dave Eggers 2013 novel, The Circle offers up an enticing story about an indeterminate future where no one has secrets anymore.  Director James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now) steps into the sci-fi subgenre of techno-thriller.  The "techno" part is a high-risk, high-reward venture where sometimes you get a near masterpiece, like Ex Machina, sometimes you get a film that might seem dated or, worse, ridiculous.  Given the recent White House executive order relinquishing our right to Internet privacy, it seems the future is now, although The Circle has a few cards up its sleeve.  The "thriller" part is equally dicey; transmitting complex ideas in a thrilling way ain't easy, and it's even tougher when your protagonist's job is to sit at a computer monitor.  To these ends, the movie actually tells us that The Circle is "the chaos of the Web made simple" and explains it that way, and it whisks our heroine off to a Beck concert or solo moonlight kayaking beneath the Golden Gate Bridge.

Mae Holland (Emma Watson) is a recent college grad, working customer service and driving a clunker that requires attention from her long-time friend Mercer (Boyhood's Ellar Coltrane) who would like more than platonic attention.  She lives at home with her parents, who appreciate her income because her father (the late, wonderful Bill Paxton in his last film role) has multiple sclerosis and her mother (Glenne Headley) is his caregiver.  One day, Mae receives a call from her best friend Annie (Karen Gillan, Guardians of the Galaxy's Nebula) a rising power broker at a giant social media conglomerate known as The Circle.  Annie got Mae an interview at the dream company.

After nailing the interview, Mae goes through a whirlwind training and settles in professionally.  It seems, though, Mae is coming across to her colleagues as a mystery woman.  She is encouraged to bring more social media to her work presence and to take part in the many activities--and support groups, if needed--made available to The Circle "family." A loner and homebody by nature, Mae is uncomfortable.  At a "Dream Friday," the workforce gathers in an auditorium where CEO Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks), funny and self-deprecating, charms his employees into cult-like rapture as he paints the future for them.  Later, at a company party, she meets a strange man who seems put off by the revelry.  We later learn he is Ty (Star Wars' John Boyega), legendary genius co-founder of The Circle, who has been off the grid for years.

At her company physical, Mae is given a watch and a tracker, amping up her own skepticism until Annie suggests Mae's parents also be put on the company health plan, which will afford her father state of the art medical care.  Mae is so grateful that the melding of her personal and professional life seems a small price to pay.  Meanwhile, Eamon and his Machiavellian COO Tom Stenton (Patton Oswalt) learn of Mae's father, and she is catapulted from wide-eyed "guppy" to Kool-Aid zealot to the most famous person on the planet.  It's lonely at the top--she becomes alienated from everyone who was close to her--but with the help of Ty, she sees the sinister underbelly of The Circle's utopian promises.  Events spin out of control and in true techno-thriller fashion, the outcome is uncertain.

The Circle is a timely film, addressing several progressive talking points, and rather than lecture what is right and what is wrong, it shows the double-edged sword of the extremes of transparency, privacy, and argues the need for personal responsibility.  It is sensory candy, from Danny Elfman's riveting synthesized score to the flood of text bubbles that pop up as a superimposed running commentary on social media.  Still, there is a problematic lack of flow, choppy transitions that don't synch well with Mae's way-too-meteoric rise to worldwide celebrity.  A fitting conclusion almost makes up for that, though.  The cast itself presents an array of talent: Emma Watson is typically dependable but not exceptional; Paxton and Headley are wasted as plot contrivances; the most glaring variances, though, are seen among Tom Hanks, Karen Gillan, John Boyega, and Ellar Coltrane--they have roughly equal amounts of screen time, but it seems that we don't get enough of Hanks and Gillan, yet too much of Boyega and Coltrane.  The cinematography is nothing special, so we'll give it a recommendation, but you can wait for streaming.

7.0 out of 10 on a popcorn scale


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