Cover your webcam, muffle your cellphone, you’re not paranoid, they really are watching you. Welcome to the world depicted in The Circle, a sledgehammer satire of privacy and pesonal freedom. The film puts a bullseye on the Big Brother reach of companies like Google and Facebook. The ideals and concerns presented are valid, but the execution is overdone and blase. We get the message. It’s delivered via firehouse.
Emma Watson stars as Mae Holland, a customer service rep struggling to get by. Her best friend, Annie (Karen Gillan), gets her a job at The Circle, a behemoth internet company that has pioneered social media. It’s charismatic CEO, Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks), belts out tech breakthroughs and wisdom to the cult-like employees a la Steve Jobs. Mae at first struggles to fit into the ultra-connected corporate culture. But personal issues at home and with a childhood friend (Ellar Coltrane) soon has her drinking the Kool-Aid as well. It’s not until a chance meeting with a mysterious coworker (John Boyega) does Mae truly grasp the power of the company.
The Circle spends a lot of time making pointed barbs at the culture of Silicon Valley. We get the earnest millenials slaving away at a cheery compound. Resplendent with ping pong tables, pool, yoga classes, dorms; all of the accoutrements needed to work twenty hour days. These initial scenes, especially the dialogue from the worker bee clones, are humorous. The gag loses its luster quickly as the plot progresses. We are meant to believe that ostensibly intelligent people, able to create algorithms and advanced tech, are lemmings when it comes to privacy issues. It’s entirely unbelievable after a point. The film then drags considerably as we’re preached to like the sheep it mocks.
The Circle is co-written by Dave Eggers, the author of the 2013 novel the film is based on. This one is a headscratcher as the script is mundane. It plays out very slowly and in a ham-fisted way. It could be that the novel has similar beats and is just being recreated. I’ve never read the book, so can’t make that judgment. It’s just intriguing, and a rarity, that the original writer’s script is so boring.
The characters in the film are completely unbelievable. Some, like the Tom Hanks ceo, are meant to be caricatures. The others fall flat in their intelligence and naivete. I can buy a girl being impressed by a new job, but not much else that Mae does. Emma Watson cries and croons, but her actions are nonsensical. The why, especially after the film’s climactic event, is totally illogical. The Circle takes what should be a lucid character and boxes her into the overly satirical plot.
Privacy issues, surveillance, the ability to be off the grid, we’ve seen these themes tackled before in far superior films. It’s 2017, Orwell’s 1984 is decades past. The average social media user is keenly aware of its dangers. The Circle isn’t telling or showing us anything new in this regard. It needed to be faster paced and more entertaining. From STX Pictures, The Circle is a dull and bloated exercise in technology’s overreach.