Review: James Ponsoldt’s ‘The Circle’ fails in every way imaginable

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“We are so f*****” are the last words to come out of Tom Hanks’s mouth in director James Ponsoldt’s new film, “The Circle.” Audience members should also speak these words as they enter the theater to watch this movie.

“The Circle” stars Emma Watson as Mae Holland, a young, ambitious millennial who lands a job at The Circle, one of the most powerful technology and social media companies in the world. Before long, company co-founder Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks) takes a liking to Mae and becomes her mentor. Mae also meets the other co-founder of The Circle, Ty Lafitte (John Boyega), and sparks his attention as well. Mae then agrees to serve as the guinea pig in an experiment where she “goes transparent,” meaning that she will broadcast every second of her life for the world to see using one of the Circle’s small, highly advanced micro-cameras to document it.

The film attempts to raise questions about technological ethics, privacy and the role of social media in our modern society and fails spectacularly at each one.

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It’s difficult to know where to begin when trying to discover exactly what went wrong with this movie. The entire film is an absolute disaster from start to finish. Nothing about this movie seems to work. The filmmakers just could not get it right.

For one thing, it contains atrocious acting. Emma Watson gives what may be the most awkward performance of her career in this film. She did a decent enough job earlier this year as Belle in “Beauty and the Beast” and she was always solid as Hermione in the “Harry Potter” film series. But here, when she has to try and play a character who at least theoretically has depth and complexity, she cannot get the job done. Hermione, please go back to Hogwarts.

The majority of the rest of the actors give reliably awful performances as well. The only saving grace in terms of the acting, and really in the entire movie, is Hanks. Tom Hanks cannot give a bad performance, and his scenes become the only ones of the movie that do not seem like nails scratching a chalkboard. Still, the question comes to mind of why on earth Hanks would agree to do a movie like this. Maybe he got too busy to read the script beforehand.

Speaking of the script, there lies another major problem. It contains absolutely terrible writing. The entire movie is filled with flat, uninteresting, often cringe-worthy dialogue, much of which comes from Watson’s character. Everything anyone says in this film sounds corny, predictable and downright lazy on the part of the screenwriter. The dialogue will make you cringe while simultaneously making you laugh out loud because of how bad it is. You will laugh throughout the film, but not in a good way.

The film also has major issues with the logic of its plot. For example, John Boyega’s character, who apparently helped start the company, now just hangs out around the company’s headquarters without actually doing anything. We get hints about conflict and confrontation between his and Hanks’s characters, but this confrontation never happens. He shows Mae some of the secret projects The Circle has been working on, but this secret never becomes relevant to the rest of the movie, making Boyega’s character an essentially pointless placeholder.

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Also, the ideas and concepts the film wrestles with become far beyond its grasp. The movie tries to make a comment on society, but it presents a world too illogical and unrealistic to take seriously, making any sort of comment the film tries to make fall flat on its face.

The only thing more astounding than Tom Hanks’s involvement with this film is the film’s director, James Ponsoldt. Ponsoldt has directed wonderful, critically acclaimed films like “The Spectacular Now” and “The End of the Tour” so “The Circle” marks an embarrassing new low in his film career.

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The film tries to become satirical but completely fails because it becomes so corny that you can’t tell if you should take what is happening on screen seriously or not. The only way to enjoy this film is to go in with a “so bad it’s good” mindset. Other than that, the bad acting, horrible script and general lack of intelligent commentary make it a total mess. It tries to shed light on the future of society, but in the end, has nothing intelligent whatsoever to say about it.

The film was based on a book by Dave Eggers and you should probably just read the book instead. It may or may not be good, but it cannot possibly be worse than the film adaptation.

Grade: D


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