When I think about it, “The Circle” is an aptly titled wannabe thriller. The relevant subject of the dangers of Big Brother technology and living in the digital age does little except continuously run around in circles, ultimately going nowhere.
Emma Watson feels horribly miscast as Mae, an ambitious young woman who is hired to work for The Circle, the world’s most powerful tech-driven social media company. The office environment begins to feel like a crazed cult but as she gains the notice of head honcho Eamon (Tom Hanks) and Stenton (Patton Oswalt), it goes to her head and she willfully climbs the rungs to make it to the top. Teaming up with Ty (John Boyega, who is completely wasted in a nearly insignificant supporting role), they plot to take down the company from the very top.
The cast is stellar overall, with reliably solid performances from Watson and Hanks, and good supporting turns from Karen Gillan as Mae’s pill-popping, overworked friend Annie, and Bill Paxton and Glenne Headly as Mae’s parents. Ellar Coltrane, whom you may remember as the kid from “Boyhood,” looks like a deer in headlights as Mae’s childhood friend. His acting is so awful that I almost started laughing, but then I realized that this film was being played as a straight drama and not a satire.
The film touches lightly on the boundaries of ethics, the loss of human interaction in a tech savvy society, basic privacy and freedom, but it doesn’t go quite far enough to say anything truly meaningful or insightful. Instead, the movie quickly becomes a lifeless chore that is more of a bore than something smart or enjoyable. It switches tone in nearly every scene, stumbling and rambling its way in a desperate attempt to craft a cohesive message. It never succeeds.
This is one of the biggest letdowns so far this year.