Thursday 4 May 2017

Movie Review: The Circle (2017)

A near-future technological thriller exploring loss of privacy, The Circle starts with some good ideas but quickly loses its way.

Mae Holland (Emma Watson) is thrilled to join social media giant The Circle as a customer service representative. Her best friend Annie (Karen Gillan) is a high powered member of the firm's leadership team, advising co-founders Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks) and Tom Stenton (Patton Oswalt). In her personal life Mae is drifting away from childhood friend Mercer (Ellar Coltrane), and trying to help her father Vinnie (Bill Paxton) deal with multiple sclerosis.

Mae enjoys her job although she finds the company's cult-like insistence on a high level of social media activity and participation at company events intrusive. She meets star software coder and fellow employee Ty Lafitte (John Boyega), who is keeping a low profile and is deeply suspicious of the company's ambitions to dominate and record people's lives. The Circle's latest tech innovations include mini cameras recording everything everywhere, but also medical advancements that help Vinnie. When Mae has a brush with death and is saved by The Circle's all-pervasive monitoring, she becomes a strong advocate for more intrusion into people's lives and freedoms.

Directed and co-written by James Ponsoldt and based on the book by Dave Eggers, The Circle imagines a bleak future where a social media giant is ready to fully eradicate privacy with a combination of mass surveillance, data gathering, storage, retrieval and analytics, and partnerships with government, all in the sunny name of worshipping the positive power of sharing. It's difficult to argue with the central premise that society is willingly surrendering privacy to the benefit of gigantic corporations. But after an encouraging start, The Circle hits all the wrong keys, and quickly dissolves into a dissonant mess.

Mae's transformation from an everyday millennial carrying healthy doses of cynicism and caring for her family into an advocate for subversive plots is unconvincing. She acquiesces in a zombie-like state to having every moment of her life live streamed, and later champions a really lousy digital version of global mob justice. Meanwhile, the characters of Eamon Bailey and Tom Stenton are throwbacks to another era when boomers presided over large corporations: today's tech giants are more likely to be owned and run by individuals two generations removed from Tom Hanks.

The thriller elements are particularly half baked. Mae and Ty run around empty cavernous underground tunnels that are supposedly extremely threatening because they will be filled with...more servers.

And ultimately The Circle stops being a movie and becomes a series of tedious Ted talks, Ponsoldt running out of ideas, money or both. The ending is a highly unsatisfactory mess. Annie cracks under unexplained pressure, Mae performs a couple more unexplained 180 degree turns, and an unexplained plot of secret emails is revealed, exposing...what, exactly?

Emma Watson and Karen Gillan do their best to inject energy into the film, and the more watchable parts are due to Gillan nailing the hyperstrung young executive relishing her part in ruling the world. Hanks generally sleepwalks through his few scenes.

The Circle attempts to tackle current and important online themes, but triggers error 404 instead.

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