“The Circle” is based on a 2013 novel by Dave Eggers, who also wrote A Hologram for the King, which was also made into a movie, released last year, and also starred Tom Hanks. Hanks’ production company, Play Tone, is one of the seven it took to bring “The Circle” to the big screen. In most cases, that’s not a good sign. And this is one of those cases, as “The Circle” is one of the most poorly-made and scatterbrained movies in recent years.
Emma Watson, fresh-off playing dress-up as Belle in “Beauty and the Beast”, is Mae. She’s looking to get out of her boring cubicle, phone support job. Best friend Annie (Karen Gillan) gets her an interview at Silicon Valley tech giant, The Circle. Mae gets the entry-level position, and though she starts-out dealing with customer problems and complaints, she’s surrounded by thousands of very helpful and supportive co-workers (maybe too supportive). You see – the company is all about sharing: knowledge, experiences, time, personal information. It’s Facebook + Twitter + Instagram x 100. There are no secrets among Circle employees.
On one of the company’s Dream Fridays (apparently every day is Casual Friday), the mastermind behind The Circle, Eamon Bailey (Hanks), appears in front of his legions of adoring employees. Hanks is just right for this role, his on-screen charm perfect for a charismatic founder and leader. On this day he unveils the company’s latest social media device: a tiny, sneaky-peaky camera designed to revolutionize surveillance applications. He ends the seminar with, “Knowing is good. But knowing everything… is better.” At this point it’s clear that The Circle is a company bordering on a cult.
There’s something else I also knew at that moment: exactly where the rest of this movie was headed. The only surprising element the rest of the way was just how many techie topics Eggers and co-writer/director James Ponsoldt (who also directed 2015’s intimate and fascinating “The End of the Tour”) jam into this one movie. Not only concerns over out-of-control social media, but health care, voting rights, personal privacy, cell phones, even self-driving vehicles. “The Circle” literally leaves no “drone” unturned.
In being way too ambitious, the script doesn’t take enough time to intelligently attack any of these concerns. There’s only one scene, involving two borderline scary employees who descend upon Mae at the desk and encourage her to get with the program, that truly works. She learns the price that one has to pay to become a full member of The Circle. I wish the uncomfortable feeling I had during these three minutes carried over to the rest of the film.
Instead, the rest of “The Circle” is an overstuffed mess. At various points, this film goes from being a talk show, to a game show, to a reality competition series (i.e. Big Brother) to a spy/mystery. There’s even a rock concert (starring the real Beck) thrown in. Ellar Coltrane from “Boyhood” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” breakout actor John Boyega have supporting roles, as does the late Bill Paxton, who plays Mae’s dad.
At least “The Circle” accomplished one thing: it genuinely left me laughing. In one of the final scenes (I can’t say the “climactic” scene, because the narrative has no climax) Hanks delivers the single best line of dialogue in any movie so far this year – by far. I’m not giving it away, but you’ll know it when you hear it.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “The Circle” gets a D.
Running Time: 110 min.