The Circle movie review: Irresponsible filmmaking with technology as a reductive bad guy

Mihir Fadnavis

May,19 2017 08:05 35 IST

1/5

Before I can talk about The Circle we need to go back to 2010 and the release of The Social Network. That film is considered a modern classic not just because it is exquisitely directed, but also because it is one of the very few films in the history of cinema to get the technology and computers side of things in the business world right.

Emma Watson and Tom Hanks star in The Circle

Emma Watson and Tom Hanks star in The Circle

Secondly we need to look at the career graph of Emma Watson — she’s a person who has benefited from the Harry Potter franchise, which, to be frank, was successful despite her presence and not because of it. Every other film she has been a part of showcased her rather dull screen presence and limited acting range, including in last month’s Beauty and the Beast.

The reason why I bring both those topics up is because both of those things latch on to The Circle in a parasitic fashion, bringing a potentially good film down to becoming a mostly boring, but sometimes unintentionally funny film. It’s one of those films that are so bad you won’t believe it until you see it for yourself. It’s all the more shocking considering it is directed by James Ponsoldt, whose previous three films Smashed, The Spectacular Now and The End of the Tour are extremely well made.

In The Circle, we follow Mae (Watson), who secures a dream job at the titular Google-like firm which follows a dystopian outlook towards how humans should behave and how technology should force its hand on people. It also inculcates the belief that humans don’t really deserve privacy, and that constant surveillance should be the cornerstone of modern life. Mae tries her best to adjust to these axioms but as she goes further down the rabbit hole she discovers her company bosses (Tom Hanks, Patton Oswalt) may be taking things too far with the power their technology wields.

On paper that’s a really interesting story and given the current state of things with Facebook, Apple, Google and Uber being constantly in the news for selling your private data off to advertisers this should have been the film to make you aware and question your online choices. Unfortunately the paranoia of such technology is rendered in the most woefully ham handed manner in the film, with cheesy dramatic dialogue exchanges, stereotypical villainous motivations, and also dumbing down the material to the bare minimal — perhaps in an effort to cater to audiences that the filmmakers think are not very smart.

Unfortunately anchoring this mess is Watson, whose role is basically the eyes and ears of the audience, completely failing to evoke any sense of curiosity, empathy or fear. Her interaction with Hanks’ shady character is the ultimate failing of the film — moreover because she represents a dumb little girl caught in a web of lies, despite trying to be a smart, progressive character. It’s a hilarious mismatch, and just one of the many things the film gets wrong with character dynamics.

But more than anything it’s also an irresponsible bit of filmmaking because they’ve showcased technology to be a reductive bad guy, and such a simplistic depiction of surveillance power doesn’t bode well for humans living in 2017. If we’re going to have a discussion about the ethical and moral choices in social media and drones, you better have a balanced argument instead of a sensationalist one, even though it’s a movie.