You might be reading this on a smartphone, through a social media app while sharing your current location with your online friends. The Circle would like to make you paranoid about doing that.
The satirical thriller is meant as a cautionary tale about how we’re seduced by the convenience and cool factor in the latest high-tech gadgets and shortcuts, while simultaneously letting our guard down with regard to potential dangers.
However, this adaptation of a Dave Eggers novel squanders a top-notch cast in a muddled examination of such issues as online privacy and political transparency in the age of WikiLeaks, smart homes, Facebook Live and rampant security breaches.
The story follows Mae (Emma Watson) as she lands a job at the titular tech firm, at which the office culture seems to perpetuate a cult-like atmosphere with regard to the constant connectedness of its chipper employees.
She’s kindly warned to be careful by an apprehensive colleague (John Boyega) who pioneered an innovation that forms the basis for the company’s data acquisition efforts.
When the company’s tech guru (Tom Hanks) unveils a new camera that will allow for complete access into the life of its wearer — and those around them — ostensibly to assist in advocacy efforts and spur widespread accountability, Mae becomes an enthusiastic supporter. “Without secrets, we can finally realize our full potential,” he cryptically explains.
Naturally, the endgame is really money and power, which Mae realizes too late, after she’s already caused relationships with her boyfriend (Ellar Coltrane) and her parents to deteriorate.
Mae, whose idealism runs counter to the film’s underlying cynicism, is meant to be the audience’s eyes into this world of connectivity taken to the extreme, of course. But she comes off as too naïve and desperate — failing to acknowledge the abundant red flags — to earn sufficient sympathy once she gets in too deep.
This cutting-edge thriller is certainly topical, yet also heavy-handed and contrived. The screenplay by Eggers and director James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now) lacks subtlety and surprise, and isn’t as provocative as it aspires to be.
While it’s nice to see Hanks effectively playing against type, the intriguing concept for The Circle makes the lackluster execution that much more disappointing. Still, its unsettling depiction of connectivity to the extreme might be just scratching the surface. There’s plenty of incentive to go home and unplug.
Rated PG-13, 110 minutes.