Weekly Review: The Circle (2017)

After getting a job with a prestigious company called The Circle, a young woman begins an experiment that will push the ethical boundaries on privacy and personal freedom.

When I first saw the trailers for The Circle, I was pretty excited. The cast was phenomenal. Emma Watson (Beauty and the Beast, The Perks of Being a Wallflower), John Boyega (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Attack the Block), Tom Hanks (The Post, Sully), Karen Gillan (Oculus, Guardians of the Galaxy), Ellar Coltrane (Boyhood), and Patton Oswalt (Keeping Up with the Joneses) were all listed.

The cast also includes the late Bill Paxton (Twister, Nightcrawler) and the late Glenne Headly (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Mr. Holland’s Opus). For Paxton, this was his final performance. In the case of Headly, this was her penultimate performance.

As usual with a lot of movies based on books, I haven’t read Dave Eggers’ 2013 novel of the same name. I did notice that Eggers worked with James Ponsoldt to create the screenplay for the film adaptation. That gave me a bit of confidence. Ponsoldt also directed this film adaptation.

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Once I started watching The Circle, I was first taken aback by how the majority of the cast is barely there. The story is mostly held down by Emma Watson, and I’m a bit mixed about that. I would have liked to see more of Boyega’s character. He’s barely there, much to my disappointment. I would have liked to see a bit more from Hanks’ character. There was a decent amount from Gillan’s character, but overall, it felt like a waste of such a wide range of talent.

In terms of story, there isn’t too much going on. I found that surprising for a movie with a plot like this. There were just too many scenes of the main character kayaking by herself for my liking. I understood the sentiment of it, but with so little going on otherwise, it just dragged the movie down. It didn’t feel like the worry free moment that it was meant to feel like.

There were a lot of opportunities for this story to be really good, but I never felt like it took the chances it should have. It needed to be risky. I thought it played it too safe. As soon as the story starts to get interesting, it ends. Where were the ramifications? It opens up the possibilities, but never fully commits. I left the movie feeling like I had wasted my time. I was disappointed.

The Circle really does have a lot of intrigue around it. It takes a look at what the future landscape could look like. It might even be what it’s like right now with Google and Facebook and Amazon. It carries a lot of the ethics of our own personal privacy, what we choose to share and what we don’t want to share. It looks at the social landscape of the internet. There is so much potential. It’s just so unfortunate that I didn’t feel it lived up to that potential.

In the end, I usually describe The Circle as if it were a poorly thought out episode of Black Mirror. It follows the same formula as an episode of the technological thriller anthology, but it doesn’t have any lasting power.

Despite being a timely story, it feels like it’s been done before. You can feel the dark underbelly of the tech company from the very beginning, so there’s very little surprise about it. I couldn’t help but be bored. It’s so unfortunate. I really wanted to like this one. It just fell flat for me.

Toward the beginning of the film, the main character is asked what her biggest fear is. She responds, “unfulfilled potential.” In retrospect, I find that hilarious and sad at the same time.

Due to all of this, I would probably recommend skipping The Circle. If you’re really interested in seeing some dystopian technology films or stories that explore the negative side of social media, there are definitely other films and even specific episodes of Black Mirror that do the job better than this.

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