The Circle follows a young woman named Mae (Emma Watson), who has just landed a job at the Google-like company that the title is referring to. It is by all appearances a dream job: her workplace is a massive campus that offers all manner of amenities and perks, including health care for her MS-stricken father (Bill Paxton). But there does seem to be something strange going on underneath the high-tech veneer of The Circle, and Mae soon finds herself at the center of all of it as she gets more involved in the vision of the future that the company espouses.The film is adapted from the novel of the same name by Dave Eggers. It’s a little tough to pin down the form that the movie eventually takes. It kind of feels like it’s taking on the appearance of a thriller, but the plot doesn’t really bear that out. It could play as a cautionary tale about the kind of ethical overreach that tech culture seems to naturally result in. But again, the plot seems to fall short in expressing these fairly simple ideas. The movie mainly works best as a satire of the evangelical aspects of the corporate tech sector, its scenes capturing a very specific slice of absurd reality that we face day to day. But the story gets lost when it starts to extrapolate from there.Some of the most compelling parts of the movie involve the depiction of the general culture around the fictional company. The film cuts through some of the more bizarre aspects of working in one of these massive tech firms, which seem to have weaponized fun as a way to keep employees in line. There is potent venom in scenes that uncover the aggression and coltishness that lies just beneath the seemingly utopian confines of the campus.But as amusing as those scenes are, they aren’t what the plot is ultimately about. The film makes a turn for the sinister, except it doesn’t really do that well at all. There is a sense that something evil is going on, but even the movie itself doesn’t seem entirely convinced of that. The scenarios of abuse it comes up with are pretty underwhelming, the movie taking leave of its verisimilitude as it imagines applications of technology that don’t really make much sense. And it all just leads to an equally underwhelming resolution that doesn’t really involve any sort of tension or danger for the protagonist.When you get down to the details, there’s stuff to like. The movie will often display both verbal and visual wit in many of its scenes. The way it realizes Mae’s interaction with social media, for example, is quite cleverly done. But when the movie tries to convey its big ideas, it gets terribly uncreative. It becomes a bunch of scenes of people talking about farfetched hypotheticals without any sense of the greater complexities involved. The material gets really weak, and that really hobbles the actors. Emma Watson seems to struggle with who Mae is, the character so easily swayed that there doesn’t really seem to be a person there.The Circle doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny. There are certainly things to be concerned about when we talk about the giant tech companies and their cavalier attitudes towards privacy. But the film addresses these concerns poorly, never doing adequate work in crafting a convincing scenario that would justify the narrative paranoia. It ends up relying on a clumsy dichotomy that exists in a relationship that wasn’t very fleshed out to begin with. The movie works better in scenes that imagine the present, and the absurdities that we are already all facing.
THE CIRCLE IS NOW PLAYING IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE.