Back when The Circle was in theaters I didn’t hear many people talk about it. What little I did hear about it revolved around it’s score of 17% on Rotten Tomatoes. The assumption many seemed to make was— only 17% on Rotten Tomatoes, must be horrible. At least that was my takeaway. As far as the specifics of the movie I didn’t know anything about it other than the fact that it stars Emma Watson and Tom Hanks. I didn’t even realize it was based off a Dave Eggers novel — this is something I learned after watching the movie.
With the film now on Blu-ray I finally checked it out and I have to say we all missed out. A score on Rotten Tomatoes is never a good way to judge a movie, but it’s particularly bad here. The Circle is not only a very good movie, but it’s one of the year’s best. I wouldn’t go as far as to call it a masterpiece, but it gets damn close.
Watson stars as Mae, a recent college graduate living in the Bay Area working a temp job as a customer service rep for the local water company. Mae’s best friend sets her up an interview at The Circle — The Circle is a massive tech/social media company, sort of Apple-esque. The Circle is the world’s leader in innovation and is helping transition everyone into the digital age.
The interview is for a Customer Expereince rep — The Circle’s entry-level customer service position. It’s at the bottom of the totem pole but it’s where most new employees to The Circle start and it provides a great opportunity for Mae. Unlike her temp job, this is a role with a growing company with plenty of room to expand. Plus it’s full time and the benefits are killer. The Circle is a cool, hip place to work.
Mae nails the interview and gets the job. She’s a bit overwhelmed at first, not just by the work but the whole atmosphere and work environment. The Circle certainly isn’t your typical office. They have volleyball and rock climbing and another activity you can think of. Oh and dorms. Many employees just live on site. That makes it easier not only for them to get to work but to partake in all the after work and weekend activities. And yes, there are plenty of after work activities. And of course everyone is fully plugged into The Circle.
Mae seems apprehensive at first to how intense everyone is. She doesn’t jump into the postwork activities feet first and seems to want at least some privacy. Over time though she adapts and after a bit of trouble with the law she becomes fully invested and becomes a big time player at The Circle. Eventually she moves up the ladder and is working side by side with company founders Bailey (Hanks) and Stenton (Patton Oswalt) and develops a plan to make sure everyone in the world joins The Circle.
Along the way she meets a mysterious coworker (John Boyega) that doesn’t like the direction The Circle is taking and wants it bring it down. Mae while has to decide whether she’ll continue to push The Circle forward or work with this mysterious man all while dealing with troubles in her personal life.
The Circle isn’t perfect. There are a number of flaws throughout the film. Boyega, for example, is quite underused. He gives a great performance and he plays a very interesting and important caheacter but he doesn’t get to do enough. There’s an entire other film out there with Boyega’s character that we don’t get to see.
Then there is the ending which seems a bit abrupt. It’s almost as if the film builds and builds and builds until it finally hits a peak and then just stops. Similarly to Boyega’s role, it feels like we’re missing something. Once the film hits that peak it feels like we should get another additional ten minutes or so and we only don’t.
Despite those flaws, The Circle is pretty damn fantastic. For starters it’s a very timely movie. It’s a social commentary on the technology controlling our lives today. But beyond that obvious commentary on things like Twitter and Facebook, the film takes on the government and the big brother approach. It’s very 1984.
Tom Hanks gives a performance unlike anything else he’s done in his illustrious career. He still has that charm that he’s known for, and in fact that’s what helps make Bailey the face of The Circle, but there is something sinister to him. He’s not evil, I wouldn’t go that far, but he has a dark side. His intentions seem genuinely good, he wants to use technology to improve everyone’s quality of life, but that means he’ll do whatever it takes to make that happen. For Bailey, the end justifies the means.
Then you have Watson’s Mae. Watson gives a terrific performance but I’ve seen some folks bash her character. I understand the concerns with her character but I think the overall point his missed. Mae doesn’t become the character we expect, especially for a protangist. She still has plenty of depth and an arc but it just lands in a different spot. And I like that spot because it’s very unexpected.
Director James Ponsoldt does a wonderful job handling the material. He somehow takes a subject that really shouldn’t be suspenseful and tense, and makes it suspenseful and tense. There’s almost a brooding quality to it. It’s really impressive directing.
The Circle is out now on Blu-ray and it’s a must have. Not only is the film great, but there’s some quality special features, the best of which is a 15-minute look back at the career of Bill Paxton. The cast and crew reflect on Paxton and it’s something else. The stuff with Hanks is particularly good.
The Circle is great. I don’t care what other critics say and I don’t care about the score on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s gripping, it’s extremely well directed and features stand out performances. Plus it’s a film fitting of these modern times. Give it a watch, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
The Circle now available on Blu-ray from Lionsgate.
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