Editor’s Notes: The Circle is out on its home video release August 1st.
The Circle (Lionsgate) of the title is a tech/social network giant patterned along the lines of Google and Facebook. At its ultra-modern “campus,” employees can enjoy free gourmet food, connect with workers who share similar interests, attend lavish parties, and enjoy countless other amenities. Mae Holland (Emma Watson), hired as a customer service representative, is thrilled to be working at a company with a high coolness quotient and among mostly young people, like herself.
Mae’s father (Bill Paxton) suffers from multiple sclerosis and there is always the concern about paying for his costly treatments. But fellow Circle worker and friend Annie (Karen Gillan) helps Mae get her parents on the Circle’s health plan. This appears to be as easy as making a couple of swishes on an iPad.
Mae is still a “guppy” (the in-house term for newly hired Circle employees) when the entire campus attends a talk by one of the company’s directors, Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks), announcing the company’s newest invention: an eyeball-sized, nearly undetectable camera that can be placed practically anywhere to broadcast video directly to the Internet. He demonstrates it by showing images from various locations where the devices have already been placed and tells the rapt group that such cameras placed in quantity throughout the world will be a force in cutting down crime and discouraging the ascent of despotic regimes. As Bailey says, “Knowing is good. Knowing everything is better.”
With Mae’s continuing employment at the Circle, increasing demands are made on her time and involvement while discouraging contact with family and friends who aren’t associated with the company. In this way, the company uses the same psychology as cults to keep tabs on its members. Though Mae isn’t kept against her will, there is pressure to immerse herself in the Circle community. She does this, and her fortunes at the company escalate, but eventually she realizes that the company’s goals are not all altruistic.
Director and co-writer James Ponsoldt has combined standard drama with thriller elements to depict Mae’s journey into the closed, secretive world of the Circle. Many aspects of the story are based on actual events. Bailey’s casual yet inspiring talk to his staff mirrors the Steve Jobs style, innovation drives the company, there’s an effort to make the workplace as pleasant and stress-free as possible, and the Internet’s live-streaming capability makes possible 24/7 viewing of people and events.
The Circle is a world unto itself, fueled by loyalty, nearly self-sufficient, functioning as a mini-city with specific expectations for its workers — young, intelligent, willing to buy into the company mindset.
Ms. Watson (Beauty and the Beast) is sympathetic as a young woman who accepts the Circle’s philosophy until she begins to weigh the pros of constant surveillance against the erosion of privacy rights and sees how the power of the company can literally destroy lives. There’s a Big Brother quality to The Circle—ubiquitous and backed by financial resources and political connections that make its mission seem not only reasonable, but a boon for mankind.
Despite its thriller elements, the film lacks suspense. Almost from the point that Mae goes to work at the Circle, it’s clear that there are nefarious plans afoot beyond the company’s public mission of bettering mankind. It takes Mae pretty long to see what the audience senses immediately. The characters of Annie and Ty (John Boyega, Star Wars: The Force Awakens), a fellow worker who stands around looking solemn, seem to have more importance to the story than their screen time suggests, and their motivations are unclear.
It’s also not clear what the message is. On one hand, the script advocates a world of cameras everywhere as a way to make life better. But then it switches gears, pointing up the extent of corporate audaciousness and greed.
Rated PG-13, the film also stars Patton Oswalt, Glenne Headly, and Ellar Coltrane (Boyhood).
Bonus extras on the 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack include the featurettes ”No More Secrets: Completing the Circle” (a 4-part series), “The Future Won’t Wait: Design and Technology,” and “A True Original: Remembering Bill Paxton.” A digital HD copy is enclosed