(director/writer: James Ponsoldt; screenwriter: novel by Dave Eggers; cinematographer: Matthew Libatique; editor: Lisa Lassek/Franklin Peterson; music: Dannu Elfman; cast: Emily Watson (Mae), Tom Hanks(Eamon Bailey), Glenn Headly (Bonnie), Ellar Coltrane (Mercer), Bill Paxton (Vinnie), Karen Gillen (Annie), Nate Corddry(Dan), Patton Oswalt (Stenton), John Boyega (Ty); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Anthony Bregman/Gary Goetzman; STX Entertainment; 2017)

“I walked away from The Circle thinking this is just one more mainstream cyberspace film that fails to connect with me.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A dull tech thriller without the needed suspense or gravitas to pull off its dangerous pronouncements about privacy infringements. It’s a cautionary tale that’s torn from today’s headlines, but its tech settings seems as dated as yesterday’s technology. The film is based on the 2013 dystopian novel by Dave Eggers. The middle-aged James Ponsoldt (“The End of the Tour”/”Smashed”) directs and co-writes the screenplay with Eggers. The high-gloss film shoots for the obvious without being sharply satiric or saying anything new about the Internet connected world. It starts out like it might be smart as its heroine gets her footing in a tech company that might resemble Facebook or Google, but things drift off to a not so smart story that doesn’t have the conviction to wage war on either the exploitative tech industry or the opportunistic politicians watching over the Internet.

Our heroine is the innocent beauty Mae Holland (Emily Watson), who goes from cubicle obscurity in her dead-end job for the water company to the seemingly dream job of “customer experience” worker at the Circle. That’s a Silicon Valley giant corporate tech firm. It houses her in luxury at a dorm on their vast campus, and promises all kinds of money rewards. The innovative firm is run like a family operation by the smoothie con artist tech guru Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks) and his nefarious partner Tom Stenton (Patton Oswalt).

Mae’s animated friend, the one who got her the job interview, is Annie (Karen Gillen), who by being a loyal believer in company policy has ascended to the company’s elite “Gang of 40.”  That ‘group think’ gang carries out vague international tasks, such as handling world-wide regulation problems.

The film turns its attention to telling us spying is good because it offers transparency, as the boss gives his usual “Dream Friday” lecture to the workers in the auditorium and demonstrates an eyeball-size spy cam–the company’s latest network gadget.

After Mae is saved from drowning because the company’s spyware caught her while sinking in a kayak, she becomes a true believer and is brainwashed into saying company mantras like “secrets are lies.”The shocker is when Mae is enticed to wear the dot camera that will show her every action to a computer screen watched by everyone who is connected. That will lead to her being the company mascot demonstrating that technology could be good but she will learn it is also capable of being bad.

In his last role, Bill Paxton plays Emily’s dad, suffering from MS. Glenne Headley plays her sweet mom. Mae’s ‘good people’ craftsman boyfriend is Mercer (Ellar Coltrane), the artistic opposite of The Circle’s herd-like personnel, who is stuck with trite dialogue. John Boyega is the mysterious off the grid inventor at The Circle, who in a muddled role now sees the light about this company and is willing to take risks to bring it down because of its egregious surveillance practices. 

The heavy-handed and almost unbearable finale, goes full-blown into an-Orwellian shtick that comes across as superficial, as the pic voices its concerns that either Big Business or Big Brother will take away more of our liberties in its fight against evil doers or use data collected for their own personal gain of wealth or as a source of power over people. That message was delivered too awkwardly to register with much of an impact. I walked away from The Circle with an empty feeling, thinking this is just one more mainstream cyberspace film that fails to connect with me.

The Circle

REVIEWED ON 4/30/2017       GRADE: C