REVIEW: ‘The Circle’ bouyed by timely premise

The Art of Nerding Out

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It’s been said science fiction is a precursor to science fact, and there are plenty of examples to support that claim. But few sci-fi films capture the real-life benefits and pitfalls of our technologically-based society-to-be like “The Circle”, a movie that feels like it’s about a year-and-a-half from being fact.

“The Circle” stars Emma Watson as Mae, who nabs a job at The Circle, a tech company that’s a fusion of Google, Facebook and Instagram. She rises quickly through the ranks and soon finds herself working with the company’s head hochos, Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks) and Tom Stenton (Patton Oswalt).

At the same time, Mae watches the toll working at The Circle takes on her friend, Annie (Karen Gillan). She also runs across Ty Lafitte (John Boyega), who shows her evidence that maybe The Circle’s reach is extending too far into the lives of individual people. Mae tries to balance her family life and her status as The Circle’s new “it” girl, all while confronting the morality of what her employers are doing.

“The Circle” is based on the novel of the same name by Dave Eggars, and I don’t know if this was the case with the book, but the movie has clearly been aimed at younger audiences. Many of the more compelling and complex ideas that could be found in a story such as this have been sandblasted away, leaving the basic ideas about the morals of companies gathering information and how far we should let our privacy be compromised.

As an adult viewer, I found this approach to be a little too simplistic and predictable, but I also think presenting these kind of issues to kids is a very good idea. Kids will have to decide how much they share online, and if this movie gets them thinking about that, then the filmmakers deserve a pat on the back.

Other things I liked: Hanks is appropriately slimy as Eamon Bailey. Everything that comes out of his mouth sounds wonderful, but the look on his face make him impossible to fully trust. It’s a great performance and I wish he got more screen time.

Ditto for Gillan’s Annie, the most interesting character in the movie. I found myself wanting to see more of her arc, and was impressed by the way Gillan’s charisma drew me in. And it was really good to see Bill Paxton, who plays Mae’s father. He gave a moving performance and really helped keep me watching.

As for the rest of the movie, it’s solid, but nothing special. Watson is serviceable as Mae, although I never felt she fully articulated the weight of the events her character surely would’ve been feeling. Boyega was underused, showing up to spout conspiracy theories then disappearing for long stretches of time.

Visually, “The Circle” often feels like Facebook come to life. It works to tell the story well enough. My biggest issue with this flick is that I just never felt like were as high as they should have been. You have a couple of billionaires trying to, in effect, take over the world, but there’s never that much drama. It’s kind of the cinematic equivalent of the school who keeps threatening to pound you into a bloody pulp, then leaves you alone because you’re not worth the trouble.

Overall, “The Circle” is a movie that wants to be smarter than it is, but it’s still smarter than many of it’s big screen competition. It raises pertinent questions, and while there have been movies that have posed these questions more eloquently, “The Circle” deserves credit for asking kids to put down their smartphones for a few minutes and think.

3 ½ Indy Fedoras out of 5

MPAA Rating: PG-13

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