James Ponsoldt’s directorial credit should already have been enough for me to think that there was something decent inside of The Circle, but what also caught me was the fact it came from a novel by, and was co-written by Dave Eggers. This name already caught me eye more than anything else about The Circle because Eggers also was a co-writer of Spike Jonze’s underrated but wonderful Where the Wild Things Are. Now that The Circle has come out I’m just wondering how everything had gone so terribly wrong for both Ponsoldt and Eggers because both filmmakers have created fairly thoughtful material prior to this and now comes the worst Black Mirror episode disguised as a feature film. Then again, at least Black Mirror even at their very worst had something to say and yet this one doesn’t even know in the slightest what it wishes to do and at its worst, has to preach everything in your face to the point it becomes so irritating.
Right off the bat, a description for what “The Circle” is as an organization is a place where everyone knows every small detail of what everyone else is doing with their lives. One of the first things I was thinking of when I watched this was a particular Black Mirror episode, Nosedive. The concept of Nosedive was one that took the dangers of social media to an extreme sense with society to the point it has ended up becoming the world one inhabits: with people being ranked based on how they interact with others. With The Circle we have something similar now with one member, our lead as played by Emma Watson, now amidst something of greater danger after making her own life “transparent” and visible to other participants. The fact that her world starts to fall apart is one thing that The Circle wishes to talk about because of the danger she had set herself within but then comes what ultimately becomes the film’s biggest problem.
The Circle is a film that is completely at odds with what it wants to be. From the outline alone it would be easy to assume that the film had something to say about the dangers social media would place oneself within but it eventually starts rambling about the supposed “danger” and suddenly says it’s a good thing. It seems as if it wishes to address what could easily be a hot topic issue about how teenagers become attached to technology but the problem is that this muddled message makes it come off more as that teenager rather than someone from the outside, but the moment it switches out that persona it turns into something so astoundingly condescending. I’m not even sure if James Ponsoldt wanted to create a satire because the lack of coherence only threw me off so fast, because it’s like we have what could easily be in part a Paul Verhoeven film because of the carried idea, then preaches about social media for people who hate millennials the way Men, Women & Children portrays every facet of that.
Dave Eggers’s writing has always been fairly hit-and-miss but it was only fitting to say that this concept was always going to turn out a difficult one to put on film. When it comes to the film’s many shifts in tone, it only becomes all the more evident because it’s so hard to tell whether or not it actually wants to be a thriller based on how people interact with one another or by the gravitas of the subject matter, it just meanders and repeats itself like someone yelling out a rant from their window without a stop. It doesn’t even bother exploring the dangers that this technological world can present upon oneself, rather instead it just shows and tells on the spot and it becomes far too much within a narrative that could so easily be a simple one. At the very least with the Black Mirror episode I can believe it as a satire but The Circle takes every moment far too seriously as if people know what would happen because of their experience with technology’s uprising: and it doesn’t do any of that at all. It just spends its time condescending its own viewers about rising and then falling down.
If that had not been enough to condemn about what has been created, there comes the poorly written characters all across the board. Emma Watson’s character isn’t particularly any different from an overwhelmed teenager who got so much at an unexpected point of her life, Tom Hanks and Patton Oswalt are the villainous heads of The Circle (they just are villains because they’re the leaders, obviously), Karen Gillan just shifts between fondness and resentment towards Watson, and the worst of all come the characters of Ellar Coltrane and John Boyega. The very most that Coltrane and Boyega even do for the film is offer a presence for the film’s plot in order to further itself about only one part of its own message, because there’s not a single character that even stands out in this mess as a character at all, just a flat cutout. And there comes a greater shame in the fact this is Bill Paxton’s final screen appearance, saddening me all the more because there’s not a single good performance I can name in the whole cast for as talented as they are; because I didn’t even see actors playing characters.
By the time the film ended, I was wondering how much had the film decided to throw away on the spot. It seemed to spend all of its time condescending people who use social media about the concept of privacy, then suddenly goes back on its own message. Suddenly I realized why I’ve come to find The Circle every bit as hateful as I did, it was merely Jason Reitman’s Men, Women & Children now being done as a thriller. If another thought had come to mind after finishing The Circle, I’d certainly be happy to see less films that tackle the dangers of social media in the manner that has come around in here. The best way to describe The Circle would be by saying that it’s the cinematic equivalent of a two-hour long rant from that overly conservative neighbor who thinks and millennials and modern technology represents the scum of humanity. Sure, there’s no perfection coming out from either end, but there’s no need for films like this to come around and shame every aspect of that for us. I never imagined that James Ponsoldt and Dave Eggers would sink down to something nearly as hateful as this but here we are.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via STX Entertainment.
Directed by James Ponsoldt
Screenplay by James Ponsoldt, Dave Eggers, from the novel by Eggers
Produced by Anthony Bregman, Gary Goetzman, Tom Hanks, James Ponsoldt
Starring Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, John Boyega, Karen Gillan, Ellar Coltrane, Patton Oswalt, Glenne Headly, Bill Paxton
Release Year: 2017
Running Time: 110 minutes