'The Circle' fails to live up to potential

Tech thriller neither frightening nor cohesive


Emma Watson is underwhelming in "The Circle."

“The Circle,” James Ponsoldt’s film adaptation of Dave Eggers’s 2013 novel, is a self-proclaimed thriller attempting to confront the darker aspects of social media and the consequences of technological consumption. Despite a star-studded cast, a poorly written script, subpar acting and an overall lack of cohesiveness and purpose causes “The Circle” to fall far short of the mark.

Mae (Emma Watson) is an ambitious young woman stuck in the drudgery of temp work when she receives a call confirming her interview at The Circle, a tech company which seems to be a combination of Google and Facebook. After obtaining a customer service position, Mae is indoctrinated into The Circle’s sleek world of innovation, initiative and the enthusiastic pursuit of new information, enveloped in the mantra “knowing is good, but knowing everything is better.” As Mae moves up The Circle’s chain of command, she starts to discover the sinister effects of the administration’s unabashed disregard for privacy and underhanded transactions, and eventually plays a major role in the company’s deterioration.

With several A-list actors and a best-selling author as the screenwriter, it is surprising that “The Circle” is a flop. Most problems stem from the script, which renders most of the characters completely one-dimensional as they stumble through the laughable dialogue. Watson’s portrayal of Mae is unconvincing and awkward, and the failure to expand upon her emotions or relationships with others makes it difficult to relate to her.

John Boyega, of “Star Wars” fame, is wasted in the role of Circle employee Ty, spending the majority of his screen time skulking in corners and underground passages and offering the occasional cynical quip or meaningless insight. Tom Hanks plays Circle founder Eamon Bailey reasonably well by channeling his inner Steve Jobs with a cheerful and benign exterior shrouding his crookedness, but his acting chops and dad jeans aren’t enough to save the movie. The characters are simply not likable or believable, and their forced interactions are frustrating to watch.

“The Circle” does have an alluring premise. In the digital age, the focus of many books, movies and television shows has been the precarious impact of an increasingly tech-oriented society. However, “The Circle” has no concrete message to impart on its audience and it ultimately fails to present its central problems as realistic threats. It lacks the human connection and electrifying sense of dread that permeate works like “1984” and “Black Mirror,” and instead, its meandering plot attempts to build up suspense with no real climax.

The few disturbing qualities of the company’s practices aren’t powerful enough to elicit an audience reaction, and the motives of the protagonist, co-founders and other employees are never fully revealed. Is Bailey deliberately malicious, or just too swept up in his creative vision? Is Mae just playing along to get ahead or is she actually the company’s greatest advocate? The movie never settles on answers to these questions, and the result is a convoluted, emotionally detached story that neither engages the audience nor creates a compelling commentary on the drawbacks of rapid technological modernization and the eradication of privacy.

It is fitting that during Mae’s initial interview, she is asked her biggest fear and brazenly replies, “Unfulfilled potential.” Similarly, “The Circle” itself fails to live up to the standards of its genre, falling flat when faced with everything it could have been. 

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