REVIEW | ‘The Circle’ is a cautionary tale that errs on the side of caution

May 22, 2017 - 4:13 PM
Tom Hanks and Emma Watson in 'The Circle.'

There are quite a few things to love about “The Circle.” First on the list is its cast.

Here, Emma Watson portrays what she embodies best—a strong-minded, wilful and competitive young woman, something she’s been effective at portraying since she played Hermione during her Harry Potter days. The social media and technology themes of “The Circle” make the role of Mae Holland even more natural for Watson. If you think about it, she is indeed an opinionated trailblazer in this world of unsuppressed digital innovation—even in real life.

There’s also Karen Gillan whom we all know as Amy Pond in “Doctor Who,” and also Nebula in “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

Not surprisingly, the Scottish actress plays Annie, a Scottish girl with a high-flying job at the tech giant firm The Circle and also Mae’s college roommate and best friend. It isn’t hard to imagine Gillan as an ass-kicking superwoman; we’ve seen her do that numerous times in previous roles.

In this particular film however, we see a much softer side of Gillan as she portrays a normal person with flaws and who encounters failure in a dog-eat-dog real world where you can’t fix anything through time travel or with some superpower. Gillan convinces us that she too can fall apart on screen like other actors, and hopefully, this can lead to opportunities for meatier roles.

In yet another stellar, endearing performance is Tom Hanks, the guy we all want to trust with our lives.

He plays Eamon Bailey, the charismatic co-founder of The Circle. He is the guy everybody looks up to, the one who garners thunderous applause whenever he conducts Steve Jobs-esque presentations in front of all his employees.

He and partner Stenton (Paton Oswalt) convince Mae to go “transparent” by wearing a marble-sized camera day in and day out and installing several more even in every nook of her parents’ house, therefore allowing the millions in her social media circle to witness every single thing that happens in her and her family’s life. It’s Bailey’s charm, not Stenton’s, that lures Mae deeper into The Circle.

The film is loosely based on Dave Eggers’ novel of the same title, with major changes that writer-director James Ponsoldt deemed necessary for the screen adaptation. True enough, the narration is simpler, less complex than how it would have been if the novel were strictly followed; with greater focus on other characters and the love triangle with Mae’s co-workers retained.

Getting into full detail of these subplots might have required at least another hour of screen time. Instead the film focuses on the rise, corruption and redemption of Mae Holland in The Circle and the negative effects of misused technology.

“The Circle” is a hyperbolic cautionary tale that warns viewers of the possible repercussions of letting technology override our right to privacy and social media conquer every aspect of our personal lives. It serves its purpose of serving fair warning to this social media-crazed generation and perhaps something that you wouldn’t want your parents to watch, although they probably should.

The cast is impressive—including the late Bill Paxton, playing Mae’s father in what would be his last film. The themes are timely, alright. Mae works for a company that seems like Apple, Google and Facebook rolled into one so you can imagine how many millennials would be drawn to this film.

While the scenes are stirring enough, the film leaves little to the imagination and spirals aimlessly towards the end. Despite its stellar cast and immense purpose, it concludes rather weakly, sacrificing wit and clarity in favor of ending on a positive note. This cautionary tale errs on the side of caution.