Released 17th August (Australia)
Seen 11th December
Directed by James Ponsoldt
Written by James Ponsoldt & Dave Eggers
Produced by 1978 Films, Imagenation Abu Dhabi FZ, Likely Story, Parkes+MacDonald Image Nation, Playtone, Route One Entertainment
Starring Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, Patton Oswalt & Karen Gillian
WARNING: Mild spoilers for the end. No specifics will be mentioned but there’s a lot of hints, because that’s where most of the problems lie. I would cover those with a spoiler plugin but I don’t have those yet. I’ll speak in very general terms and not name characters or locations, but just warning you now.
The Circle is a story about a girl named Mae (Played by Emma Watson) who gets a job as a big tech company called The Circle and while she’s there she slowly climbs up the corporate ladder and on the way up she learns that the products she’s been selling aren’t as innocuous as they seem… or at least, that’s what the press briefing might say for this film. You’re clearly meant to believe that Mae is the innocent one, the one who finds out what this big evil corporation is doing and takes them down from the inside using her knowledge of their practices and tries to show the world that there’s a better way but that’s not what this is. This is a story about a woman getting a job at a company and actively encouraging the bad things they are doing.
This film revolves around the idea of privacy and how important it is, and how a lack of privacy can have devastating consequences which is a great plot… for a Black Mirror episode which this movie so desperately would love to be. It may be silly to compare an adaptation of a novel with an unrelated TV series but they share this idea of satirizing modern society and the technology we use. This movie is exactly the kind of plot that Black Mirror would do, indeed elements of the episodes The Entire History Of You and Nosedive feel like they were lifted wholesale and used in this movie. The key difference though is that Black Mirror is incredibly dark and isn’t afraid to take its story to a bitter unhappy ending if that’s what’s needed and is also really well written. The Circle has neither of those things.
The acting is absolutely fine, which is understandable because this movie got an amazing cast and then handed them an unfinished script. Entire major events seem to be eliminated just so we have a surprise. Karen Gillan played Annie, Mae’s best friend and throughout the story we see her slowly getting more and more dishevelled as the stress gets to her… oh wait, I’m sorry, we see her go from practically perfect to a complete wreck with minimal transition between them or explanation and then, once she’s in Scotland, she’s not mentioned again. Tom Hanks plays Eamon Bailey who is the boss of this company but he has about four scenes and it doesn’t feel like there’s anything there. Sure there’s a “Climatic” moment at the end but it’s not earned, there’s no hint of anything, they gave him nothing to work with. They’re lucky that he’s Tom Hanks and can make literally anything work, but give the man something to work with and he could’ve been even better. You wasted your Tom Hanks, I did not know such a thing was possible but congratulations on that one. Worse still, you wasted your Bill Paxton. This film is Bill Paxton’s final film and he is genuinely good in it, he plays a man with MS and in the few scenes we get with him there’s a genuine warmth there and a good performance that is hampered by a bad script, you wasted the last Bill Paxton part that we’re ever going to get and that’s pretty unforgivable right there… I know they didn’t do it intentionally, it still sucks.
This film really falls down in the last third. The first two-thirds of the movie are just a bland Black Mirror clone, as I said, and I can tolerate that for a bit because even bland Black Mirror is better than most things but the conclusion is awful. There’s no resolution or hint that anything’s changed. There’s no redemption, no explanation of what could possibly be resolved. There’s not even a cruel twist that would plunge our hero into a worse place. The solution is no solution at all, the solution is acceptance of the world and pretending like there is nothing wrong and it’s not satisfactory in the slightest. Hell, one of the main characters just walks off at one point during the climax for no reason. You think they were going to do something dramatic, but they don’t and when you see the film you can probably guess exactly what they could’ve done and exactly when they could’ve done it but they don’t. They just walk away, as does everyone. It’s a bad ending. If this were a Black Mirror episode it’d end with Mae locked up in a padded room permanently surrounded by cameras or with her being proven to be crazy or, hell, with her being assassinated or something horrific like that… here? Nope, everything’s good, you don’t need privacy anymore so just enjoy it. Isn’t it fun? Isn’t it nice to not have privacy anymore? Secrets are lies, you don’t want to be a liar, do you? No, so just embrace never being able to take a crap again without someone watching you online because Yay, privacy is dead. Yeah…no, not a good ending.
The Circle would have worked if they embraced how dark this idea of removing the right to privacy is and if they actually turned Mae into someone fighting against the system instead of encouraging it….or if they had just called Charlie Brooker and said “Our story is broken. Fix it please Mr Brooker” then we’d have something here. Instead, we have a half-baked attempt at a dark satire about privacy and it’s bland and boring and basic, no matter how much fun it is hearing Tom Hanks saying “We are so fucked”. Basically, you only need to watch this if you’re desperate for a Black Mirror fix and can’t wait until the 29th of December to get it so you’ll settle for a half-assed dose to tide you over.