Review: The Circle

Last Updated on July 31, 2021

PLOT: A young woman (Emma Watson) takes a job as a customer service rep for a mammoth tech company, The Circle. Catching the eye of the founder (Tom Hanks), she quickly rises through the company, whose goal seems to be to eliminate privacy altogether.

REVIEW: Social media is a double-edged sword. In many ways, it’s brought people closer together, but in other ways it keeps them apart. Privacy is something that no longer seems to be valued. How often have you woken up from a night out and found that one of your friends posted, without your permission, photos of last night’s shenanigans? Or had someone tag you, letting everyone know exactly where you are and what you’re doing? Since when does everyone have the right to know where we are, and moreover, why should anyone care?

All this could lend itself to a pretty topical thriller, and sure enough, has provided “Black Mirror” with enough fodder to make it the “Twilight Zone” of our era. But what about a movie like THE CIRCLE, which has the benefit of a larger canvas than “Black Mirror” could ever hope for? Based on a novel by Dave Eggers, one can’t help but feel throughout the film that THE CIRCLE should be a great film rather than the mediocre one it is.

Director James Ponsoldt is one of the best indie directors out there, having scored three winners in a row with SMASHED, THE SPECTACULAR NOW, and THE END OF THE TOUR. Directing THE CIRCLE, he seems ill at ease, as if his sensibility has been muted by adherence to the material (he co-adapted the screenplay with Eggers), or that too many cooks were involved in the production process. It’s a thriller utterly without thrills, with much more of the film devoted to Watson’s day-to-day at The Circle rather than the thriller elements the marketing’s been selling, and once they kick-in they’re very mild. As a result, a lot of folks could be seen walking out of last night’s screening scratching their heads, confused about how, instead of the thriller they expected, they got a rather mild-mannered drama whose message is never clear. Sure, technology and social media can be bad, oh but wait, it’s actually pretty great. Or is it?

A muddled message and a lack of thrills sink THE CIRCLE, although other aspects don’t quite work. One of them, sadly, is Emma Watson. A wonderful actress who recently nailed her star turn in BEAUTY & THE BEAST, it’s nonetheless tough to accept her as someone who’s supposed to be average. She seems too smart – too exceptional. She’s not super believable as a regular person out-of-sorts, scrapping-by, and an easy mark for a company like THE CIRCLE. I just don’t see her being converted into a true believer so quickly, even if they do get Beck to play their company parties. I couldn’t help but think, while I was watching it, that Watson and co-star Karen Gillan should have swapped roles. Meanwhile, John Boyega is more-or-less wasted in a role that feels like it was mostly excised from the finished version, while Ellar Coltrane appears in a very oddly directed scene where he speaks in long-shot to Watson, and it seems like all their dialogue was re-written afterward with the long-shot covering it up. Strange.

Of them all, Gillan, as Watson’s deeply embedded, but rebellious, friend makes the strongest impression, while Tom Hanks has fun as The Circle’s answer to Steve Jobs. His likability and folksiness makes him good for the part, even though neither he nor Patton Oswalt, who plays his partner, have that egghead genius quality you’d expect from someone who runs a company like this.

In the end, THE CIRCLE is an OK movie, and probably worth seeing just in order to see Bill Paxton’s final performance as Watson’s MS afflicted father (with the always great Glenne Headly as his wife). Still, it’s not something that demands a big screen experience and could be an ok Netflix watch – but not more than that.

The Circle



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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.