Combustible Celluloid
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With: Tom Hanks, Emma Watson, Karen Gillan, John Boyega, Ellar Coltrane, Patton Oswalt, Glenne Headly, Bill Paxton, Amir Talai, Smith Cho, Poorna Jagannathan, Beck
Written by: James Ponsoldt, Dave Eggers, based on a novel by Dave Eggers
Directed by: James Ponsoldt
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for a sexual situation, brief strong language and some thematic elements including drug use
Running Time: 110
Date: 04/28/2017

The Circle (2017)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Round Footage

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This information-age thriller tries to tackle relevant topics like privacy and accountability, but its presentation is so screwy, opaque, and plasticky, it might have come from a computer on Prozac.

In The Circle, Mae Holland (Emma Watson) is working a dull temp job and eagerly accepts when her friend Annie (Karen Gillan) gets her an interview at the huge internet company The Circle. At first, Mae finds the new job enjoyable but finds peer pressure mounting, with expectations that she will be more present on the company's social network.

After a kayaking accident, she realizes that it's not safe to keep secrets, and she agrees to be totally transparent, wearing a camera and broadcasting every aspect of her life online. She becomes very popular and advances through the company. But a friendship with one of the company's founders, Ty (John Boyega), leads to the realization that the company's kindly, charming chief officers (Tom Hanks and Patton Oswalt) are not what they seem.

It starts promisingly enough, like a more updated Antitrust (2001), with appealing character and an exciting setting. Then our main character, Mae, takes such a weird, puzzling left turn. Not only is it difficult to identify with her, but when she verbally argues her decision, it sounds wooden and hollow. In fact, all of the characters trying to (ironically) speak up in favor of a total lack of privacy sound fake. (Is this the point of the movie? If so, it's not clear.)

This is all so horribly disappointing, given the skill that writer/director James Ponsoldt has shown on his three previous, excellent features, all dealing with deeply and movingly human flaws (Smashed, The Spectacular Now, and The End of the Tour). Now whatever human touch he might have brought to the material is gone, and he seems to have no handle on how to make a paranoid thriller with inhuman stakes.

Moreover, Dave Eggers co-wrote the screenplay, based on his own book, and the cast — including the late Bill Paxton and a musical appearance by Beck — is above reproach. Wherever this went wrong is, for now, a mystery.

Lionsgate's Blu-ray release looks and sounds excellent, and features a DVD and a digital copy. It includes a 30-minute behind-the-scenes featurette, a 10-minute featurette on the production design, and a moving tribute to Mr. Paxton. (Note: Glenne Headly also passed away between the theatrical release of this movie and the Blu-ray release.)

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