I Wrote my First Movie Review While Giving Birth to a Camera. It has followed me ever since. Please don't mind the Mess.
Peter Callow and Scott O'Neill
It’s a tale as old as time. Song as old as rhyme. A British girl trying an American accent gets a job that pays well, has excellent benefits and is run by Tom Hanks. What could possibly go wrong?
If you believe the new thriller The Circle, a lot. If you don’t believe it, then you’re thinking way too hard about it and maybe your brain is too stressed out and you need to watch Fast 8 again because the last thing anybody does during those movies is think.
If for anything else, The Circle answers the question: What would happen if Hermione Granger was all grown up and ditched that useless POS Ron “Useless POS” Weasley? Because after a couple of frames, you realize you’re watching 20-something Hermione (under the oh-so-fake name Mae Holland) living in the Bay Area with a crappy car, a job with no prospects, parents who love each other as one of them as MS (Glenn Headley and the late Bill Paxton).
Her friend Annie (Karen Gillan, totally wearing inappropriate clothing) calls her and tells her The Circle is hiring people at entry level positions. What is The Circle? It’s only the biggest fake tech firm on the Bay Area, a not-too-subtle gloss on Facebook and Google. Instead of being run by young white men, The Circle is run by middle aged white men (Tom Hanks and Patton Oswalt playing his creepy, possibly pedophile COO- this has really nothing to do with the film, but every time I saw Oswalt appear I thought “He’s such a pedophile”- the character, not Patton Oswalt).
Mae gets hired after crushing the interview. She seems to excel at customer service but doesn’t play in any of The Circle’s extracurricular reindeer games during her time off. The higher-ups at the Circle don’t like that, “encouraging” her to attend The Circle’s after work activities even though they know that she just goes home to visit with her sick dad. Mae thinks it odd they know about Dad because it’s not like she talks about it at work. The Circle is also willing to put her parents under the Circle health plan, saving them thousands of dollars. That’s so sweet.
All she has to do is attend Circle events and post more stuff on Circle Social Media. It’s at one of these events (you know, the one where Beck is playing) that she has a meet-cute with Ty (The Force Awakens’ John Boyega). He’s a tech genius that thinks there’s hinky stuff going on in The Circle and not everything is kayaking and Beck Concerts. Mae thinks he might be overreacting but the audience knows he’s right. What would a magical negro be if not help to the white girl?
At one of The Circle’s mandatory Friday gatherings, Hanks’ Eammon Bailey (a sketchy name if you’ve ever heard one) introduces new Circle technology: a wireless camera the size of a marble that he and other employees have placed all over the Bay Area and soon, the world. Again, what could possibly go wrong?
Mae will soon find out and you’ll be saying “Holland, we have a problem,” as danger comes full…circle. *cue upbeat sitcom music*
What works with The Circle
- Wilson!!!- As the movie progresses, you realize that The Circle has nothing new to add to the Privacy vs. Transparency Argument regarding the internet, but what it does add to the basic thriller element is the genius casting of Tom Hanks. He’s ostensibly the villain, but his line readings seem so sensible that you find yourself going along with what he’s saying until you realize “Hey, that’s not right…”
- For example: Picture Hanks saying, “I’m going to kill you but not before I kill your children right in front of you.” You’re nodding and saying “Sure, Tom Hanks” until you get to the word “Front”.
- A simple dialogue scene with day players Amir Talai and Smith Cho making Mae update her social media is one of the most insidiously upbeat and most unsettling scenes of the year. You wonder if all tech firm workers are this chipper while trying to invade your privacy. You guess they probably are.
- Emma Watson’s best work of her career. You don’t even mind that her accent slips occasionally.
- During Circle’s best sequences director James Ponsoldt (the excellent The Spectacular Now, The End of The Tour) shows how casually we allow technology to cripple us, making random moments of The Circle the scariest of the year. Unfortunately---
What Doesn’t Work With The Circle
- Of the name actors, John Boyega has gotten shortchanged as it feels like most of his scenes were left on the cutting room floor. He’s introduced as a possible major player in the story, and then disappears in importance and screen time in the final two acts. Kind of like what happened in The Force Awakens.
- Unfortunately, an abrupt ending and crudely rushed climax show that most of The Circle is superficial thrills. Not necessarily a bad thing, but by the end you realize the film has bitten off way more than it can chew.
- A botched subplot featuring Mae’s disconnected friend Mercer (Boyhood’s Ellar Coltrane) borders on cliché you’ve seen in countless movies before but handled much better in countless movies before. By the time this subplot come full circ—um, is over with you’re almost laughing at how ridiculous it is.
An entertaining but ultimately facile take on the dangers of the overreaches of technology. Come for Hanks and Watson. Stay for Watson and Hanks
Buy The Circle Here!
Sam Shepards from Europe on December 31, 2019:
Alexa, I want to be self-partnered like Emma Watson, please advise.