It’s an undeniable fact of life that we live in a society today where technology is rampant for both good and bad reasons, and chief among that tech is the internet. We wonder today how we ever managed to get along without it, connecting us with distant family and friends, helping us schedule our lives, delivering the latest news, etc. But with the boom in social media, where once it was old school friends reconnecting years after graduation, we’ve seen the rise of the “Internet Troll,” a person who can sit at their screen totally anonymous, leaving generally negative comments on other posts just to generate a reaction, or to spread “fake news.” But the internet connects the world now like no other technology before it and one has to wonder what the next step will be.
That answer is proposed in the new thriller The Circle, starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks. Watson plays Mae Holland, a young woman who gets an interview for her dream job at The Circle, a sort of mash-up of Google and Apple, and then gets hired to be some sort of customer service representative. But once there, she obviously does not fit in with the Stepford-like hive mind of the rest of the employees, but she plugs away at her job, trying to raise her customer approval score above 90. And the movie never really explains any of this. At a company function, Mae encounters a young man (John Boyega) who she doesn’t know is the creator of a program used at The Circle called True You, but then she figures it out and he shows her … something that sets off some red flags for her. The company’s owner, Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks), then introduces a new tech device he plans to distribute across the world: tiny, almost undetectable cameras that anyone, anywhere in the world can access, as a way to prevent tyranny. After Mae takes a kayak ride late at night and almost drowns … but is saved by people watching her on the little cameras … Bailey proposes that she take the next step by wearing a smaller, modified version of the camera to provide the world with complete transparency into her life. She seems eager to accept what really feels like a punishment, eventually roping her parents into joining her, but after her friend Mercer becomes a victim of harassment and her parents are humiliated, Mae needs to take matters into her own hands before things get even worse.
The Circle is rife with situations that could generate a good old-fashioned, 1970s-style movie paranoia. Filmmakers of the 70s really knew how to crank that paranoia up to 11, and The Circle really could have gone there, but it ultimately ends up a bit lifeless and almost smug. Plus, the gaping plot holes in the story don’t help. Mae’s friend Annie (Karen Gillan), who helped her get the job, goes from cute, perky, put-together, wildly driven bestie and Circle employee to falling apart, jealous co-worker (who suddenly decides to stop wearing makeup and combing her hair) after Mae suddenly becomes Bailey’s golden child after … who knows how long at the company. This lack of a coherent timeline does the story no favors, nor does the acting of Ellar Coltrane, the young man who made a splashy debut growing up before our eyes in the film Childhood. Another plot device that goes nowhere are Mae’s parents, played by the late Glenne Headly and the late Bill Paxton. Paxton’s Vinnie is saddled with MS and after Bailey offers to help the family with his medical tech, we never really find out what happens to them after an inappropriate moment is broadcast on the web. Unfortunately, the appearance of both actors just makes their scenes very melancholy. Mae’s ascension within The Circle also seems to happen quite suddenly and Boyega’s character is pretty much wasted. What works, however, are the nice on screen graphics representing the comments from the members of The Circle as they follow Mae’s life. Reading them is sure to give you a few chuckles.
The Circle is now available on Blu-ray from Lionsgate and the presentation is pretty spot on. For a techno-thriller, the film is generally bathed in bright sunlight instead of the expected Matrix-like green color grading. The movie was shot natively in 5K and 6K and finished in 4K, so the HD Blu-ray image is quite sharp. The disc’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is also used to great effect, filling in the surround channels with a crowd in an auditorium, or just the general buzzing of the hive of employees at The Circle. Music is also distributed nicely and dialog is clear, front and center.
The Blu-ray’s extras include:
- No More Secrets: Completing The Circle (30:56): A set of four featurettes documentary the film’s production that can be viewed separately or with the Play All function.
- The Future Won’t Wait: Design and Technology (10:55) which takes a look at the film’s production design, especially the on screen graphics and titles/credits.
- A True Original: Remembering Bill Paxton (13:53), a short piece featuring Tom Hanks talking about his friend, with some additional input from The Circle director James Ponsoldt.
Sadly, Glenne Headly died after the film’s release (Paxton died during post-production), so there are no tributes or memorials to her. Presumably the disc was already locked and manufactured or in the process of manufacture by that point.
The Circle looks and sounds great on Blu-ray, and the story had enough potential that it did give me a mini panic attack thinking about how insidious this technology could be if it were allowed to be unleashed unchecked on the world as it is in the movie, especially when it comes to the notion of the government forcing people to have a Circle account to connect and control all aspects of their lives. It’s already frightening enough with Google, Apple, Facebook, et al having so much of our personal information, but the intrusion proposed by The Circle is truly disturbing. Too bad someone like Alan J. Pakula (The Parallax View) or Sydney Pollack (Three Days of the Condor) wasn’t around to direct it.
Lionsgate generously provided Hotchka with a Blu-ray of the film for reviewing purposes.