The Circle (2017)
Having pulled off a hat trick of terrific movies (Smashed, The Spectacular Now, and The End of the Tour), James Ponsoldt established himself as a master at capturing the subtle connections of human beings at their most lost and fragile. Elegant and thoughtful, Ponsoldt’s direction is far better than the material he works with in The Circle, a cautionary tale that feels timely… maybe twenty years ago. Adapted from Dave Eggers’ 2013 novel, The Circle wants to be a thinking person’s popcorn paranoia thriller, but the story is also pulpy and cliched. Too many elements seem lifted from other movies: Mae Holland (Emma Watson), an eager and intelligent millennial, lends her dream job at a giant social network company, and with great perks comes great hidden consequences. Of course, the company’s CEO (Tom Hanks) is disarming and amoral. Of course, Mae’s best friend Annie (Karen Gillan, so good in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) is a company top performer who becomes a rival and an outcast. Of course, Mae’s guy friend (Boyhood’s Ellar Coltrane) lives off the grid. And of course, Mae meets an insider (John Boyega, underused) who is ambivalent about the company’s ethics. The Circle boasts an impressive cast, including Bill Paxton in his final film role, and the filmmakers raise genuinely intriguing questions. Could the eradication of privacy be justified with the best of intentions? In the movie’s most thrilling episode, Mae demonstrates how the vast number of online users can track down the most elusive criminal and have that person apprehended in 20 minutes. How to decide when saying no to being a part of the circle means saying no to catching child murderers? The movie is savvy to make Mae a convert as she decides to broadcast herself 24/7 with trolling commentary from those who are online, but the rise and fall of her and Annie in the company’s social ladder is choppily, unconvincingly staged. For a film that is all about staying connected, The Circle could have been more in touch with the real world.