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Blu-ray Review: The Circle

August 15, 2017

By John Corrado

★★½ (out of 4)

When Mae Holland (Emma Watson) gets a job at a powerful tech company known as The Circle, she ends up discovering the true intentions of the company that controls everyone’s lives through their devices and social media platforms.

At first, the company seems like an oasis of possibilities, with an open work environment, overly friendly co-workers, and rousing keynote addresses by their CEO Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks) on a weekly basis.  They are even able to put Mae’s parents on her health insurance plan, helping her father (Bill Paxton) who has MS, and lifting a burden off her mother’s (Glenne Headly) shoulders.

But when a series of events leads to Mae having her own privacy threatened, she starts to heed the skepticism of her friend Mercer (Ellar Coltrane), who chooses not to have an online presence, and the concerns of a mysterious coder (John Boyega) who keeps a low profile at the company and has now come to question the very programs that he helped create.

For a film that wasn’t press screened in advance of release, and barely made a dent when it opened in theatres earlier this year, The Circle is actually pretty good.  Although there are some more heavy handed moments along the way, the film provides decent if imperfect entertainment, while also offering many interesting and timely ideas about the dangers of technology gone too far.  The title company itself is like an amalgamation of Apple and Google, with a campus-like building that encourages its employees to do all their socializing and extracurricular activities on site.

The film imagines a near future where people can wear button-sized body cameras that can stream their every move online, and with the advent of things like Facebook Live, this honestly doesn’t seem that far fetched.  The Circle keeps all of their employees under close surveillance, and has its own homogenous environment that tries to ensure they all think alike and don’t stray from the party line.  They also collect copious amounts of data on their users, under the guise of making their lives easier by connecting all their accounts and devices, permanently storing all of this information in giant underground servers to potentially be used for their own purposes.

I’m not a technophobe, but I do question the amount of control that tech companies and social media have over people’s lives, and the way they have amassed these insane amounts of power in a relatively short amount of time.  It’s no longer just the social sphere that is controlled by these companies either, with their reach having now fully bled out into the political landscape as well, which the film explores in an interesting but somewhat underdeveloped subplot involving a senator.  The film is in many ways a warning sign for how quickly Silicon Valley could take over the government and even the world.

This is not to say the film is perfect, because it does have some challenges, and it isn’t quite as powerful overall as it could have been.  Directed by James Ponsoldt, working with his biggest budget to date, The Circle struggles to deliver the same genuine emotional impact as his masterfully low-key previous efforts The Spectacular Now and The End of the Tour.  As a character, Mae often contradicts herself in the way that she goes back and forth between doubting the company, and helping strengthen their tyrannical power over people, and it can make her arc feel somewhat frustrating and uneven.  The performances by the all-star cast are fine, but not really career defining for anyone.

Although The Circle is clearly a flawed work, it’s also one that played right into my interests about privacy in the digital age, and for that I think it’s worth a look.  The presence of actors Bill Paxton and Glenne Headly, who both passed away earlier this year, also adds a bittersweet quality to it.  The film explores important themes of whether freedom and privacy are still possible when everyone is connected online, and the dangers of one company having too much control over people’s lives.

The Blu-ray includes no additional bonus features.

The Circle is an Elevation Pictures release.  It’s 109 minutes and rated PG.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. August 22, 2017 2:35 pm

    Hmmm this may be interesting. Especially with a cast like this.

    By the way, there’s also a 2015 movie exactly of the same name.

    Like

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