The Circle is based on the book of the same name by Dave Eggers, directed by James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now), who joined Eggers on the adaptation. Those are two names we trust; ditto Watson, Hanks, John Boyega, Patton Oswalt (who plays the Woz to Hanks’s Jobs), Glenne Headly, Karen Gillan, and the late Bill Paxton. I’m not quite sure how that many good people made a movie this bad, but here we are. Eggers was trying to ask big questions, about the value of privacy and the importance of government and private openness and transparency, but that’s all the movie seems capable of doing: asking questions, in strangely stiff dialogue scenes. Their conversations articulate themes, make proclamations, and mouth-piece ideas, rather than telling a story, creating tension, or provoking genuine thought.
Any actor would struggle putting that stuff across credibly, and Watson, sad to say, struggles mightily. She simply never manages to wrap her unsteady American accent around this painfully turgid dialogue, and Boyega doesn’t do much better (their scenes of flirtation would be so much hotter with their native accents, but I digress). Hanks and Hanks alone manages to sell the sloganeering (“I believe in the perfect ability of humanism”), probably because most of his scenes are pep-talk performance. You believe that he might or might not believe, but can certainly make his people believe. And there’s something just perfect about the way he says “We are so fucked” as he sips his coffee.
But otherwise, The Circle is a hot mess. Occasionally, there are flashes of the movie it could’ve been – a decent near-future social thriller, perhaps, or a tech company satire in the Silicon Valley mode (there’s one legitimately great scene, in which a pair of her Stepford Coworkers grill Watson relentlessly over her non-participation in “non-mandatory” corporate activities), or even a send-up of online armchair activism (“We have sent 180 million frowns from the US alone! I bet that is gonna have an effect on their regime”). And there are doses of other movies in there for good measure – computerized crime stuff that Minority Report did far more successfully, danger-of-secrets stuff that Sneakers did likewise. And its rough conclusion manages to feel like both a reshoot and a desperate editing job, at the same time. It’s a real waste, The Circle, but not to worry; everyone involved will go back to making good movies, and we’ll all forget this poor thing ever happened.
“The Circle” plays again today at the Tribeca Film Festival. It opens Friday in wide release. Photo credits: Jason Bailey / Flavorwire.