Blu-ray Review: The Circle (2017)

By , Contributor
Lots of talent came together for The Circle, the new thriller based on Dave Eggers' 2013 novel of the same name, but collectively they couldn't figure out how to make a cohesive story. There are many elements thrown into this mix, none of which are explored to a satisfactory degree. Director James Ponsoldt (who helmed the exquisite The Spectacular Now) co-wrote The Circle's screenplay with source-novel author Eggers (himself no stranger to the medium, check out the heart-wrenching 2009 drama Away We Go). The topic is shrinking privacy in an age of ever-present, ever-increasing online monitoring/tracking, social media, and nano technology. Ponsoldt takes a slightly satirical approach to the material, but it doesn't cut deep enough.

The Circle is available on Blu-ray and DVD on August 1, 2017.

Emma Watson stars as Mae, a recent recruit of tech giant The Circle. She got the job via her Circle-employed friend Annie (Karen Gillan, Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy). The company is run by charismatic guru Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks). The Circle's employees are loyal to Bailey, almost disturbingly so. The rah-rah, lockstep atmosphere cultivated by Bailey results in such blind enthusiasm on the part of the worker bees, they don't realize how potentially intrusive Bailey's new SeeChange tech may be. SeeChange is a ball baring-like camera that's so small it can be placed virtually anywhere and remain undetected as it transmits high resolution video streaming.
 
rsz_the_circle_john_boyega.jpg As Mae rises in the ranks at The Circle, quickly eclipsing the friend who helped her get the job, she voluntarily surrenders her privacy SeeChange. Nothing is private as she strives for "complete transparency," but we never really understand what makes this rational young woman want to take this route. A number of big issues are touched upon, as Mae brainstorms ideas for increasing SeeChange's ubiquity with Bailey and Circle co-founder Tom Stenton (Patton Oswalt). But the bigger implications of everyone being able to see everyone else's daily life are simply too big for The Circle to handle. Instead of a plot, we get a bunch of "what if" scenarios thrown at us without any of them being tied together.

Watson isn't the most dynamic screen presence and her low-intensity style doesn't make things any more compelling. Hanks fans might come away disappointed with his relatively minor role. Eamon Bailey, at least as conceived here, is a character he could play in his sleep. Adding an unintentional but nonetheless palpable layer of sadness is seeing Bill Paxton and Glenne Headly as Mae's beleaguered parents. No one could've known this would be one of the last films for both of these vivid actors, but as it turned out Paxton and Headly were both victims of untimely deaths in 2017. Neither is given much to do here, except look on with skepticism as their daughter goes deeper into Bailey's SeeChange rabbit hole.

Lionsgate delivers a solid technical presentation, with Danny Elfman's effectively subtle score a highlight of the DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix. As for bonus supplements, there are some surprisingly interesting pieces consider The Circle was pretty much a box office bomb. What I expected to be a typical EPK fluff piece, "No More Secrets: Completing The Circle" is a four-part, 30-minute doc that ably demonstrates the filmmakers had the best intentions in adapting Eggers' book. "The Future Won't Wait" is an additional ten-minute piece that focuses on the look of The Circle. "A True Original: Remembering Bill Paxton" is self-explanatory. Glenne Headly's passing in June was apparently too recent for Lionsgate to include a similar tribute for her.

The Circle is distressingly aimless where it needed to be taut. Plot points like Mae's late-night kayaking accident or the growing paranoia of John Boyega's Circle employee Ty feel almost randomly inserted. Plenty of good ideas throughout are shot down by poor execution.
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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is film and music. His new jazz album Good Merlin is now available.

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