‘The Circle’ Chases Its Tail

What begins as an interesting exploration of the cult of personality of an iconic Silicon Valley entrepreneur and the group-think within his business organization, loses its direction somewhere in its final act, leaving audience members a bit confused on the overall moral of the story.

Emma Watson builds an engaging persona as Mae, a social media ingénue, navigating through a maze of overly enthusiastic, always-smiling, co-workers at The Circle. There’s a buoyancy and realism to her character as she struggles to find her place within the organization. The Circle is a social media conglomerate that values total immersion into the corporate lifestyle, with members committed to a “sharing is caring” philosophy of life.

The film’s premise is intriguing. Social media allow us to stay in touch and connected to friends and family members world-wide. We can even interact with strangers. But with that ability comes responsibility and vulnerability. With self-disclosure and “transparency” comes risk. Does our online presence provide us with a greater sense of community and safety? Or does it destroy our privacy, dooming us to live public lives with less depth and less meaning?

At the heart of the film is the question of whether there is such a thing as the right to privacy, and whether individual rights are trumped by the good of the collective.

Unfortunately, the film fails to take a clear stand. The film’s ending seems to contradict the argument of the rest of the film. This puzzling dénouement is a major let down. I can’t help but wonder if there’s a different, and dare I say better ending lying on a cutting room floor somewhere.

John Boyega nearly steals the film in his few scenes as a supporting character, and Tom Hanks is, well, Tom Hanks. He perfectly embodies the affable, charismatic, rich and powerful icon named Eamon Bailey. Bailey wins over his employee-followers with very little effort. He seems like a guy you want to have a beer with, and the perfect boss. He is concerned with making the world a better place. At least that’s the overt message of his TED Talk-like addresses to his smiling, young minions. Patton Oswalt plays against type as The Circle’s grinning corporate henchman.

Despite its narrative flaws, the film is engaging, and the performances are top notch for the most part. One exception, sadly, is Ellar Coltrane, who brings scenes to a screeching halt every time his character appears on screen. It was somewhat charming to watch him grow up before our eyes in his lead role in 2014’s Boyhood, but he doesn’t have the acting chops to keep up with Hanks and Watson.

Considering the strength of the cast, the lack of clear message and narrative arc is a disappointment. The film could use an edit for length, too, as the one-hour-fifty-minute run time seems bloated. There are a few too many scenes of explanation and exposition. Movies flow best when they show the audience what’s important to know, rather than tell them. This film gets bogged down with dialogue that was clearly inserted to keep us “in the know.”

Overall, there are strong performances by most of the cast, but a weak script flattens The Circle.

6/10

Patty Williamson

I teach media-related stuff at Central Michigan University, and have been ruining film for students for nearly 20 years.

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