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REVIEW: “The Circle”

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In the age of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube almost nothing is private anymore. It’s a reality that was pretty much scripted to eventually become a focal point for the film industry and is the central theme of “The Circle”, a supposed cautionary tale about the impact that these technologies can have on our personal lives and our intimate moments. However, what could have been a fantastic and harsh examination of society today actually plays out as a boring, uninteresting mess.

“The Circle” us based on the Dave Eggers novel of the same name from 2013 and stars Emma Watson as Mae Holland, a young tech worker who joins a massive internet company called The Circle. There she meets Eamon Bailey and Tom Stenton, co-founders of The Circle played by Tom Hanks and Patton Oswald respectively, and a mysterious fellow “Circler” played by John Boyega who cues her in to the risks of a world of complete transparency, the kind of world The Circle wants to create. As Holland begins to embrace her role at The Circle, and eventually becomes the first member of the company to go completely transparent with a camera on her at all times, she begins to realize the consequences that come from a world without privacy and the risks that comes with an overabundance of surveillance.

Despite its good intentions “The Circle” is as dry and uninteresting as a film can really hope to be these days, especially with such a talented cast at hand. Watson, Hanks, Oswalt, Boyega, and the slew of supporting characters that include Karen Sheila Gillan and the final film role for Bill Paxton all come off as wooden, boring, and lifeless every step of the journey. Many times this is played up for the sake of some humor as we see each character embracing The Circle in a cult-like way, but it only comes off as awkward, strange, and even creepy at times especially as you begin the realize the film isn’t trying to demonize The Circle, but justify it in the right hands.

That’s another massive flaw with this film actually, it betrays its own message. Now I never read the book. I don’t believe you have to if your going to see the movie because the movie needs to stand on its own merits and while the book might have done a decent job presenting its eventually message, this film does not.

We get a massive buildup that implies The Circle is not all it seems and that it’s a bad part of society that countless people have chosen to embrace without understanding the risks of what it has to offer…but all of that is thrown away is the boring and rushed climax that actually finds full transparency and an over-dependence of social media to be justified as long as we can trust the people behind the keyboard. It’s a lot of buildup and a slow crawl to a climax that has no real payoff.

For me it was an underwhelming premise with bland performances and a slow, boring, and monotone story that offers few thrills and even fewer real revelations. In a way “The Circle” almost implores the viewers to be a boring, phone addicted mess rather than showing the world the real negatives that can come from it. It lacks real conflict and only a few moral dilemmas, including one big consequence that, while powerful at that particular moment, is eventually glossed over in the most tasteless way as a victim of what The Circle has made the world is turned into a martyr in order to support a system he was always against, and by his closest friends who we are supposed to actually like! It’s a surprisingly disrespectful and tasteless moment that further implies that even those against the system are working for the system.

If here’s any credit I can give the film it’s that it does poke fun at our obsession with technology to great effect. As Mae Holland adapts to life on the campus of The Circle she becomes enamored with the concept of being a part of the larger group and the cult-like atmosphere takes ahold of her in full force. She comes to see the good in knowing everything about everyone, but the people around her are even more dependent on this technology to the point where they find it odd for anyone not to be using it in full force. The film dares to ask, do we really want the world to know EVERYTHING about us? Some things in life belong behind closed doors. It’s just too bad the film chose to hide these elements within its minor characters and brief interactions between extras than put this concept front and center and asking these questions are a much deeper level.

There are few redeemable characters in “The Circle” and even fewer redeemable qualities to a film as a whole that had so much to offer in concept alone. What could have been a cautionary tale about the impact of social media on society at large and the risks of a truly transparent society actually ends up supporting that kind of future without acknowledging the larger risks and making any nonconformist out to be in the wrong. It may show people as ridiculous robots obsessed with social media, but offers little real biting commentary on why this is a problem or even why it should be a good thing beyond bland and severely stripped down concepts that fail to explore any depth whatsoever to the plot. Combine that misguided approach with wooden acting, minimal stakes, and an uninteresting and dry story and “The Circle” is just plain bad. Ironically, early on in the film Emma Watson’s Mae Holland is asked in an interview what her worst fear is and she says “unfulfilled potential”. Little does her character know she’s in a film that makes that fear an unquestionable reality.

GRADE: 1 Star

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