With today’s hit TV shows such as Netflix’s “Black Mirror” and USA Network’s “Mr. Robot” showcasing the dangerous grip technology has on our society nowadays, I walked into the theater with a hope that “The Circle” would fit amongst these two successful shows. The film is labeled a “techno-thriller,” but feels more convincingly like a documentary. Directed by James Ponsoldt, “The Circle,” based off Dave Eggers’ 2013 novel of the same name, holds a lot of potential but fails to insinuate the common fears and advances of technology in any gripping and compelling way.
The movie follows Mae Holland (Emma Watson), a recent college graduate who has landed a tech job as a customer service associate at the highly powerful internet corporation called The Circle. The founders of the company, Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks) and Tom Stenton (Patton Oswalt), have created a small, undetectable video camera that eventually saves Holland’s life. This leads her into partaking in a project in what they call “going transparent,” where she wears a small camera on her person and shares every waking moment of her life with the whole world. She begins climbing higher on the company ladder but as she delves deeper into the inner workings of the company, she finds wide-scale consequences at the end of it.
Initially, the movie does portray The Circle’s cult-like atmosphere in an effective way. But when Holland’s co-workers begin coercing her into being more present online and to attend all the The Circle’s events and activities, the nature of the film begins to take on a comical tone in a way that makes the audience question the absurdity of The Circle’s actual requirements. Watson’s portrayal as Holland doesn’t read as someone who is gullible or in need of wanting to belong to something bigger, but as someone extremely naive and susceptible to brainwashing. She is easily persuaded into believing that no aspect of one’s life should be regarded as private, never questioning it until a major turning point in the film.
It’s difficult to watch Watson’s character not be as intelligent or dynamic as her beloved portrayals of Hermione Granger and, more recently, Belle in Disney’s live action remake of “Beauty and the Beast.” The screenplay does not do an adequate job of fleshing out her character, it felt as though the material she was given felt too restrained for Watson to work with. There was no character development for Holland, either. She stayed stagnant for the majority of the movie and doesn’t take action against The Circle until the end. This role had the ability to challenge her acting skills, for we all know Watson is capable of delivering an amazing performance, but the poor material she had to work with didn’t do her acting capabilities justice.
It wasn’t only Watson who was robbed from portraying a complex character as mostly all the characters were two-dimensional. Hanks, for example, played the founder of The Circle and that could only mean one thing: He’s the antagonist. I expected his character to be elusive and difficult to trust, but Hanks seemed to be disinterested in the whole thing. John Boyega, who plays a member of The Circle named Ty Lafitte, is charismatic and captivating in the little screen time he has, but that simply makes the audience want more of him. He turns out to be a pivotal character in the whole storyline but the script didn’t wrap up his character or narrative in a satisfying way.
“The Circle” stays in a constant safe zone. It was extremely anticlimactic, there were no edge-of-your-seat moments and nothing this film offers constitutes it as a thriller. It was as if the producers and writers of this film were scared to offend anyone, failing to push its own boundaries.
There’s a moment in the film where Holland is interviewing for The Circle and the interviewer asks her, “What are you most afraid of?” She thinks about it and says, “Unlocked potential.” Little did I know she was foreshadowing the entire movie.
Verdict: “The Circle” is not worth seeing in theaters — wait until it comes out on Netflix so you can judge this “thriller” for yourself.