Tom Hanks’ portrayal of the CEO of the film’s titular company is its standout moment. This is Circle Review & Movie Summary.
The star of “The Circle,” a high-tech octopus in the vein of Google or Apple that is spreading its tentacles into every aspect of our lives, is producer-costar Tom Hanks, who also serves as the CEO.
When Hanks appears on talk shows, accepts awards, or narrates a documentary about World War II’s unsung heroes, he always plays himself as a humble, endearing average guy.
This is what makes his portrayal of Eamon Bailey, the founder of The Circle, so brilliant. You just can’t help but have faith in Tom Hanks for some reason.
In order to promote “The New Grand Canyon,” a name for the hole that would have been left in the ground if the military had carried out its plan to bomb the recently contaminated town of Springfield into oblivion.
He was cast as a voice cameo in “The Simpsons Movie.” I’m Tom Hanks, please say hello. “The US government is borrowing some of my credibility because it has lost its own.”
More terrifying than a lot of recent horror movies is the idea that Tom Hanks, a patriotic icon on par with apple pie and the American flag, would be hired to put a smiley face on an American Hiroshima.
You just know that almost no one would oppose him if he ever used his considerable influence for evil rather than good, and the small number of people who warned against him would not be believed. Yet Hanks has never portrayed a blatantly evil character who gives you the willies whenever he appears on the screen.
In “The Road to Perdition,” where he played a mob hitman who was more of a morose antihero than a bad guy, and in the slapstick comedy “The Ladykillers,” where he played an annoying, bumbling Satan with a Foghorn Leghorn accent, were the closest he’s come to playing that kind of character. The best thing about the film is his portrayal of Evil Tom Hanks in “The Circle.”
That hardly qualifies. The 2013 novel by Dave Eggers with the same title, which served as the basis for James Ponsoldt’s film, has a lot of good ideas and a few captivating sequences, but it never quite settles into a rhythm or mode and ends abruptly and unsatisfyingly.
Mae Holland, played by Emma Watson, is a young woman who accepts a position at The Circle, a cult-like company with headquarters in the Bay Area and a campus with artificial lakes and a buzzing drone sky.
Even if you’ve never read Eggers’ book or seen an anti-tech warning story before, you probably have a good idea of where this story is going. Eamon and Tom Stenton (Patton Oswalt), the co-founder of the company, handpick Mae to participate in an experiment to promote a new, tiny camera they’ve developed.
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In order to embrace the concept of “total transparency” promoted by her boss, she will wear cameras on herself, install them all over her apartment, and place them in other significant locations of her life.
Guys like Eamon, who are genuinely interested in gaining access to our data so they can keep tabs on our lives, market to us about new products, and sell our personal information to third parties, frequently use words like “transparency” and “integration” and other multi-syllable words.
Every scene in “The Circle” is designed to create a low-level paranoia that increases whenever Eamon enters the room to deliver one of his TED-style speeches to the audience or to introduce a game-changing new product (such as the tiny spherical cameras that Eamon distributes all over the world, giving the resultant Orwellian surveillance network a granola-crunching progressive label: SeeChange).
The issue is that “The Circle” never manages to increase its paranoia in a way that isn’t tedious or overtly obvious. Furthermore, Ponsoldt’s bland adaptation and direction of this material expose his limited abilities.
This story might have made for a memorable movie if it had been directed by a crazy visionary stylist who paints with light and sound, but Ponsoldt is not that kind of director.
“Off the Black,” “Smashed,” and especially “The Spectacular Now” was about as good as intimate character-driven indies could be, and “The End of the Tour” had its moments as well. He thrives in a low-key mode, telling stories of ordinary people interacting in ordinary spaces. He treats people with decency reminiscent of Tom Hanks.
However, there aren’t many recognizable characters in this story. Most of them have names for plot functions. The Heroine is Watson’s character, who is really more of a Gullible Ingenue. The Parents are Glenne Headley and the late Bill Paxton (Paxton shakes visibly because his character has multiple sclerosis).
Even though he doesn’t portray him that way, Hanks is the villain, and Oswalt’s character is the Scary Right Hand Man who constantly monitors Mae and steers her back toward the path in front of her.
Her ex-boyfriend Mercer, who is played by Ellar Coltrane of “Boyhood,” warns her that The Circle is evil and that she is selling her privacy and her soul by joining it. The Friend, played by Karen Gillan, is the one who hires Mae to work for The Circle.
However, when the founder chooses Mae to be the company’s spokesperson, she becomes envious and irritated, and she later worries about the extent of Eamon’s exploitation.
What I’m describing here is the cast of a horror film that uses archetypal scenarios and doesn’t require its characters to be likable real-life people in order to capture our interest and win our sympathy. David Cronenberg and David Lynch are masters at creating movies that are driven by dream logic and loaded with archetypal characters and images.
Both of them may have done a fantastic job with this same material. (Just think of what they could do with Oswalt, a consistently top-notch comic character actor who here unpredictably exudes power and menace.)
Ponsoldt doesn’t seem to be that kind of a director based on this movie, and “The Circle Review needed that kind of director. Since Sidney Lumet’s adaptation of “The Wiz,” this film may be the least logical pairing of director and subject.
As you watch the film, you expect a more realistic film about technology, along the lines of “The Social Network” or “Steve Jobs,” with subdued performances, realistic-looking locations, and active-but-not-baroque camerawork.
When the story turns into something akin to a nightmarish cousin of “The Truman Show” or “Network,” or the kid sister of Cronenberg’s “Existenz,” you want it to get bigger, wilder, more outrageous.
The end result feels undernourished in almost every way, despite Hanks’ performance, John Boyega’s brief role as a founding programmer, and a couple of terrifying action sequences. This is one of those films that has everything wrong with it. It’s annoying in a unique way.