After a long delay, it’s good to have Black Mirror finally back on the…
What? This isn’t Black Mirror?
But like…really? Well, okay.
The Circle is an attempt for a film to capitalize on the increasing pop-cultural space of Black Mirror, a 5-minutes ahead techno-thriller warning of the folly of man as technology increasingly encroaches into our lives. While that’s been the domain of films for some time (think The Net), The Circle is absolutely trading on Black Mirror‘s aesthetics and thought processes to the point where I couldn’t help but wonder why I’d paid for an inferior version of something that’s streaming at home.
Adapted from Dave Eggers’ 2013 novel by Dave Eggers and writer/director James Ponsoldt, whose gift with raw character interactions and realistic yet melodramatic story nuance are largely wasted here, The Circle is just a disappointing mash, no idea or person properly utilized or (almost) any of the novel’s worst tendencies supplanted.
Fuck it, we’re just gonna look at this like a Black Mirror episode. Why not?
WHAT’S THE IDEA HERE?
Connected media will destroy all privacy.
Mae (Emma Watson) is a sprightly young go-getter working at a utility company when her friend Annie (Karen Gillian) gets her a job at The Circle, a company that’s something like Google plus Facebook plus Twitter plus HYDRA. Founded by Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks) and Tom Stenton (Patton Oswalt), the company wields a disproportionate amount of influence that only seems to be growing, as their tech slowly engulfs the whole of American life, as it engulfs Mae’s life.
Mae quickly rises through the ranks and loses touch with the people around her as she begins to give herself over more and more to the influence of The Circle and its erosion of privacy throughout the world.
HOW’S THE IDEA WORK?
It’s not that The Circle isn’t vaguely right about what it’s talking about. Social media and “everything on” connectivity has contributed to a largely voluntary erosion of any norm of privacy, sharing everything in our lives at any moment for anyone. That much is fair to say that The Circle gets right.
But that was a vague prediction in 2013 and now it simply seems dated. Whether you think it’s sad or not, there’s only a few degrees separating us from The Circle, but the largest majority of it is behind the times. The concept of a constant video stream of someone’s life may have seemed insane in 2013, but in 2017, there’s Periscope, Twitch, and Facebook Live.
Being dated isn’t necessarily impossible to overcome (the difference between the pace of technology and the pace of getting a film made can line up in unfortunate ways), but you’ve got to still have something interesting despite being behind. That’s kind of why last year’s Nerve worked better than anyone should have expected.
The Circle is more caught up in its techno-phobia, blaming the tech and seeming to suggest some sort of corrupting effect to technology, as if it was social media that forced us to post on it rather than any sort of thing within humanity. This is more like Black Mirror at its worst rather than Black Mirror at its best, which posits what within the human nature and character makes us so willing and so possibly poisoned by the erosion of norms by technological innovation.
Moreover, as much as I’ve cited Black Mirror, it feels like The Circle is a story that should be taking notes from Silicon Valley. Right there, you have a global capitalist technology octopus seeking to put its tentacles into every arena much like the real global capitalist technology octopi that we have. Mae seems to go along with every step despite her concerns because the company culture forces her into it (also script convenience). Making into villain a company that is so obsessed with profit that it would seek to supplant the United States government to keep it from stopping them is a fascinating story and a legitimately striking thing to do when it looks like Mark Zuckerberg might be running for President, a legitimate condemnation of a cold Silicon Valley culture and its role in late capitalism.
But none of that is there. The Circle is an evil company because its damn technology keeps screwing everything up. The movie shakes its fist and moves on.
Perhaps this would be excusable if The Circle was at least well put-together. But it isn’t. Ponsoldt’s sort of quiet, small, meditative filmmaking has given itself over to a glossy studio aesthetic, something closer to literal commercials than the intimacy of The Spectacular Now or The End of the Tour.
It’s also likely his worst script yet. While Donald Margulies or Neustadter and Weber were certainly steps up, Ponsoldt and the original author Dave Eggers seem to be incapable of fixing the structure problems of the original book or drilling down into it. It’s a story that feels too long and too rushed in equal measures (the worst mark of a film that was likely hacked together later) with paper-thin characters.
Those paper-thin characters likely translate into the mostly bland performances. Great actors, like Hanks or Gillian, are given too little to work with besides riding off charm. Good actors, like Watson, are kind of left to flail while they deal with no character and no real direction. Bad actors, like Ellar Coltrane, are truly left up shit creek, with Coltrane having an annoying character and an even worse attack to the performance.
The Circle just has nothing to it. Too bland to be bold, too behind to be forward-thinking, to aimless to hit anything. There’s a lot of talent here, Ponsoldt is a great director and this is a cast totally built for success. But everything is wasted in a story that doesn’t know what to attack and isn’t interesting enough to watch. Just a shame that this would totally deserve more and doesn’t earn it.
- San Junipero – A
- Fifteen Million Merits – A
- Be Right Back – A
- The Entire History of You – A
- White Bear – A
- White Christmas – A-
- The National Anthem – A-
- Nosedive – B+
- Playtest – B+
- Hated in the Nation – B
- Shut Up and Dance – B-
- The Waldo Moment – C
- Men Against Fire – C
- The Circle – D+