49° Good Afternoon
49° Good Afternoon

‘The Circle’ review: Tech isn’t high for Tom Hanks, Emma Watson

A young woman (Emma Watson) begins working for a tech guru (Tom Hanks) whose latest experiments push the bounds of privacy Credit: STX Entertainment / Edelstein

PLOT A young woman is hired by a tech company that seems to be taking over the world.

CAST Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, John Boyega

RATED PG-13 (some adult themes)


BOTTOM LINE An unexciting thriller that raises some valid questions about connectivity and privacy in the digital age.

SeeChange, SoulSearch and TruYou are among the various apps offered by The Circle, the fictional but very plausible technology company that gives James Ponsoldt’s new movie its name. If you want to peek in on any corner of the world, find someone who doesn’t want to be found or broadcast every minute of your mundane life, The Circle is here to help.

Without secrets, says Circle founder Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks), “we can finally realize our full potential.”

That statement — terrifying, yet not wholly without logic — drives this adaptation of the 2013 novel by Dave Eggers, who co-wrote the screenplay with Ponsoldt (“The Spectacular Now”). Eamon’s thinking is this: If transparency is good for government, shouldn’t it be good for everyone? “The Circle” makes a strong case that the road to dystopia is paved with good intentions, but the story it tells, a clichéd cautionary tale about the perils of popularity, seems better suited to a teen movie. What’s more, the movie’s breathless tone about the proliferation of texting and viral memes feels like an awfully late reaction to the weirdness of the Information Age.

Our heroine is Mae Holland (Emma Watson), an underemployed Northern Californian with a rattletrap car and an ailing father, Vinnie (played briefly but movingly by the late Bill Paxton, to whom the film is dedicated). After Mae lands a high-paying job at The Circle, it’s clear she’s joined a Silicon Valley cult. On the company compound, all medical data is stored, all movement is monitored and social media is purely optional (meaning: mandatory). Meanwhile, her old friend Mercer (Ellar Coltrane, “Boyhood”), a scruffy outdoorsman who represents all things natural and good, frowns upon Mae’s new hyper-connectivity and 24/7 body camera.

Hanks, as Eamon, effortlessly blends sincerity with subtle malevolence, while Patton Oswalt is enjoyable as Tom Stenton, The Circle’s prickly COO. Still, because the movie doesn’t fully explain what they’re up to (something about dirty politics), they never become truly satisfying villains. John Boyega (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”) strikes a rather hollow tone as Ty, a young Circle founder. Ty has turned against Eamon and dropped off the grid — so why is he freely roaming around campus with an access card?

Aside from the clunky plot, the main problem with “The Circle” is that its technological marvels — tiny cameras, basically — don’t feel terribly futuristic. In many ways, “The Circle” is warning us about a world that has already arrived.


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