NETFLIX (2017)

 

Director: James Ponsoldt

 

Starring: Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, John Boyega, Karen Gillan, Ellar Coltrane, Patton Oswalt, Glenne Headly, Bill Paxton

Big Brother’s watching you.

 

It’s a notion that has been around for decades, and one that has been steadily becoming a reality, most famously noted in the novels “1984” by George Orwell and “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley (two of my favourite tomes). In 2013, Dave Eggars tried his hand with his novel “The Circle”, a more contemporary retelling but using familiar conventions and the result was a sleek, if disjointed, modern tale of a current dystopia. For its film adaptation, elements were changed (notably the ending) and we have a more cohesive story.

Mae Holland (Watson) is stuck in a dead-end temp job in an uninspiring office, toiling away with little satisfaction. At home, she struggles to help her mother Bonnie (Headly) assist her father Vinnie (Paxton) who has multiple sclerosis and fend of the friendly advances of childhood friend Mercer (Coltrane). That all changes when she receives a life-changing call from her bubbly friend Annie (Gillan) with information of an interview and opportunity at the world’s largest and most innovative tech company, The Circle, providing Customer Experience tasks. Like a true pro, Mae nails the interview and gets to work at the lavish and uber-contemporary ‘offices’ – it’s more like a small village.

 

After a week, Mae is gently reminded that her social profile requires updating and her connectivity with her colleagues is undesirable, she hasn’t been attending any social gatherings thrown by the company (at weekends) or subscribed to any groups within The Circle – but all delivered with a friendly smile and vacant eyes. Making a concerted effort to assimilate, Mae bumps in Ty (Boyega) at a party and becomes intrigued by the mystery he hides behind his eyes. Her first company meeting introduces her to charismatic chief Eamon Bailey (Hanks) and the new company product – SeeChange, a camera the size of an eyeball that can be placed discreetly anywhere and provide crystal clear video images. Getting more immersed within the world of The Circle, Mae loses touch with her real self, and another encounter with Ty begins to sow seeds of doubt regarding the company’s true intentions.

 

Less a deep thriller and more a stark warning, The Circle goes to lengths to provide us with a glimpse of how the future may look if technology, social networks and our craving for knowledge take over our way of living. The Circle itself is a coagulation of Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all stirred together, a company with access to medical, financial, social and personal records and one that isn’t a wholly unrealistic proposition. With Tom Hanks in a Steve Jobs type role, it’s also hard to resist his ideas and dreams – his magnetism makes it an easy buy and could probably persuade you to jump off a cliff. The chilling aspect is his belief that his ideas aren’t nefarious, but are actually positively going to impact the world – his nice guy appeal is the danger, which makes the movie's ending slightly strange - Hanks and Oswalt (as right hand man Stenton) never comes across as 'evil' and any desire for comeuppance isn't really floated.

 

Emma Watson is fine within her role and manages to just about hold her American accent throughout. Given the chance to fully lead the movie, she doesn’t let anyone down and at times provides a fitting match for Hanks on stage. Before their untimely passing, Paxton and Headly are solid as the long-suffering parents, however John Boyega is underutilised in his role which is a shame as he brings a presence during his short screen time. Mercer is a weak point of the movie, his character is very much a plot device and has some not-so-great dialogue to deliver.

 

There’s only a few moments when the movie explodes into full thriller mode, including some espionage and chase scenes later in the movie. Instead, The Circle relies more on a thorough approach, allowing the movie to develop with a sense of intrigue and questions as opposed to having an openly villainous leader plotting world domination. Narratively, the movie at times felt slightly disjointed, especially when it came to Mae’s parents and their presence. The editing leaves a lot to be desired, a conversation in the bathroom is guilty of strange cutting and composition. Also, with its tight runtime, character motivations fluctuate fairly rapidly but are handled just well enough to ensure they remain believable.

 

The internet age we live in is portrayed effectively, with image and popularity being everything. As Mae becomes a live demonstration for a new product promoting personal transparency, the on screen messages that appear encapsulate the social media world – with praise, negativity, neutral, random and nonsensical messages appearing on screen in reaction to Mae’s experiment and help to provide some humour at times. The only thing missing are the vile troll comments that have proven a cancer to networking, but I can live with that.

 

A nod to the potential technological dystopia that awaits, The Circle is an interesting movie, if not a perfect one. It succeeds by showing restraint however just lacks something that would inject the emotional weight it required.

 

Now to check my privacy settings.

July 31st 2017

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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