Review – The Circle

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Going into The Circle, I had very little idea of what to expect.  The trailer did a very good job of not spoiling anything while offering up the suggestion of techno-thrills and mystery.  If you know anything about me, at all, however, then you know that I was in as soon as I was aware of the presence of Tom Hanks, my favorite actor in history.  Throw an ever-expanding Emma Watson into the mix and I’m downright anticipative of The Circle.

Unlike virtually every other post I’ve ever done here at the Movie March, there was a delay between watching the film and writing the corresponding post.  I had a work-related function to go to that began 90 minutes after the movie ended, so I had to wait to type this up.  I’m kind of glad, because I needed some time to sort out my thoughts.  I think I still might need more, but I’m forging ahead, regardless.

I’m going to approach this film a little differently.  I’m going to break it down into what I liked, what I didn’t, what was in the middle.  Otherwise, I’m going to be all over the place and this will be a frenetic, chaotic, Rorschach test of a review.  Before that, a quick overview: The Circle spotlights Mae (Emma Watson), a new employee of tech company the Circle, run by two men with a mysterious agenda (Tom Hanks and Patton Oswalt).  There you go.

What I liked – The cast:  Whatever problems the film has, the cast isn’t one of them and they even work together to go a long way towards counteracting said problems.  Emma Watson is the unquestionable lead.  The marketing has positioned Tom Hanks as co-lead, but based on screen-time, he takes a firm supporting role and Watson is the sole lead.  Both are tremendous.  I maintain that Watson was always the most talented actor of the entire Hogwarts student body and Hanks is the best of our generation.  Their roles are complex and they both strike the necessary balance with seemingly no effort.  Patton Oswalt and Karen Gillan are also strong and Gillan, especially, gets a moment to shine.  But Watson and Hanks stand out and the bulk of the weight of the film falls to Watson to carry, and she does so in admirable fashion.

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What I liked – The Ideas:  There are some interesting thoughts and concepts presented within the framework of the picture.  They’re often layered, thought-provoking, and innovative.  What happens to them following their introduction varies, but upon their genesis, they are frequently fascinating.  And they manifest in different ways.  Some are more overt – a literal idea presented by a character as a solution to some monumental dilemma that plagues modern society.  It’s easy to see the pros and cons for each of these ideas, but all of them are thought-provoking and clearly do have pros and cons and are not easily dismissed.  Other ideas are filmmaking related, maybe as a way to visually represent how connected a character is to social media or a story beat designed to drive home a specific point in a way to get a desired reaction from the viewer.  There are a lot of good ideas in the film and they shouldn’t be overlooked.

What I disliked – The disconnection from the real world.  Maybe this was by design, but many of the characters – mostly the background characters and extras – are not written in a way that makes them feels like genuine people from the world we actually live in.  They come off as unnatural, forced, and as actors instead of real people.  It’s possible that the leads were written this way, too, but simply refused to allow the screenplay to dictate their performances.

But, again, let’s play devil’s advocate and say that this was done in a deliberate effort to highlight how people are actively making the choice to be less human by immersing themselves in social media and disconnecting from the world.  Okay.  That’s a possibility.  I can’t say for sure if that was the intent; I wasn’t there for any of the creative process.  But, even so, this still creates a major problem in that it causes the audience to stop believing in what they’re seeing and therefore write the narrative off as something that couldn’t happen in the real world, since real people don’t think or behave this way, even though they would need to in order to get us to the point that they are at within the film.  In other words, it saps the film of its credibility, deliberate or not.  It doesn’t plague every second of the film, but it’s peppered throughout to enough of a degree that it’s a fairly big issue.  This is the biggest problem with the film and the issue that kept me from ever fully engaging.

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In the middle – The execution.  That’s very vague, I know, but it’s apt.  For example, I’m still not even sure what the message of the film is supposed to be.  Clearly, there are problems with some of the policies and programs that the Circle enacts, but they – as mentioned – are very layered, with both pros and cons.  At some point, we’re supposed to intrinsically understand that the Circle is composed of villains, but I’m not sure when we were expected to come to this realization or exactly why.  Nonetheless, the execution regularly stimulates an emotional response, even if, mentally, everything doesn’t add up.  Are we supposed to think all social media is bad?  All businessmen?  As muddled as that all is, I was completely entertained from beginning to end.  The film looked great, sounded great, and was easy to pay attention to.  I just don’t understand the point of it all.

Another example: one character becomes fully immersed in the Circle’s social media platform and, as they walk around in the real world, we see all of the comments their followers are making about them pop up in little bubbles on the screen.  This is also in the middle because it’s a unique idea, and the comments are perfect – with at least one even skewering the film in the very same way that someone on Facebook would do when they should be job hunting – and some are even laugh-out-loud funny.  But they’re also distracting, and I found myself reading them instead of listening to the dialogue.  That’s not a desired effect.

Also, I know it takes a while to make a movie, but some of the hypothetical programs they discuss in the film are practically reality, already.  It’s not necessarily the filmmakers’ fault, yet it’s still worth noting.

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The bottom line – Your feelings towards The Circle are all going to depend on what you, as an individual, prioritize in your film-watching.  If you’re a huge Hanks or Watson fan, see it.  They’re both great and you’ll love them as much coming out as you did going in.  You might even love Watson more, as she gets to show a different side of herself that we’ve not seen before.  If you dislike ambiguity, you won’t be a fan.  If you like fast, smart dialogue, you’ll be in.  If you’re a stickler for internal logic, you’ll have a rough time.

So, The Circle is good in ways and not so good in others.  I’ll leave it at that and let you take it from there.  Still, Watson continues her climb into the upper echelon of the business and her performance, here, will only land her more roles, so the film isn’t a wash, no matter what.

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Review – The Circle

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