Often, new technology brings about paranoid thrillers from Hollywood about how it’s bad for humanity (e.g The Net). James Ponsoldt, a good director who’s given moviegoers The Spectacular Now and The End of the Tour, tries to make a more nuanced look at the modern Internet with The Circle, but it feels mostly unfocused.
Emma Watson plays Mae, a young woman who begins a customer service job at a Google stand-in called The Circle. The company is run by Tom Hanks’ genial boss (in some ways, he kind of resembles the Hank Scorpio master villain character from The Simpsons). Soon, the company is launching a feature that allows users to broadcast every moment of their lives online. Watson volunteers for this, with negative effects on her life and those of her family and friends. This second hour of the film comes off like a weaker version of The Truman Show.
The problem with The Circle is that it is neither especially thrilling nor thought provoking. The supporting characters fail to register. John Boyega (Finn from Star Wars: The Force Awakens) plays a reclusive tech genius who ends up functioning solely as a deus ex machina. Boyhood’s Ellar Coltrane plays Watson’s childhood friend who functions solely as a moralizing device.
On a poignant side note, The Circle is the last film featuring the late, great character actor Bill Paxton (he plays Watson’s dad), who died earlier this year. He’ll be sorely missed.