the circle

Image Source

Director: James Ponsoldt

Genre: Drama, Sci-Fi, Thriller

Year: 2017

Director James Ponsoldt is best known for his 2013 teen-romance, THE SPECTACULAR NOW, and his 2015 drama, THE END OF THE TOUR, based on David Lipsky’s book ALTHOUGH OF COURSE YOU END UP BECOMING YOURSELF: A ROAD TRIP WITH DAVID FOSTER WALLACE. Both films have received general acclaim, solidifying Ponsoldt as a talented independent filmmaker. I, for one, enjoyed THE SPECTACULAR NOW, despite the film’s deviation into the hokey and mawkish. With THE END OF THE TOUR, I laud Ponsoldt’s beautiful, tactile direction, though I must say the script misconstrues the relationship between Wallace and Lipsky. Now, in his latest film, THE CIRCLE, Ponsoldt takes his leave from the wading pool of independent filmmaking and steps into a Pacific of high-budget production. And, unfortunately, he forgot his wetsuit.

Based on David Egger’s novel of the same name, THE CIRCLE stars the oh-so-glorious Emma Watson as Mae Holland, a prototypical Millennial aspiring to make an impact in the world, who also has a father suffering from M.S. Through a well-connected college friend, Mae gets a gig in customer relations at the powerful, Google-esque corporation, The Circle. The legend himself, Tom Hanks, stars as the ostensibly noble, internally evil co-founder, and current head, Eaemon Bailey; Tom Stenton, the second founder, and nefarious accomplice, is played by Patton Oswalt. Hell bent on achieving, Mae ascends rapidly through the ranks of The Circle; she takes on new assignments with brio; she befriends colleague Ty Lafitter, played by John Boyega; her life rolls on the upswing. But when Mae tests The Circle’s latest Orwellian technology, she, Ty, and her ex-boyfriend Mercer (Ellar Coltrane), discover the corporation’s seamy underbelly. Thenceforth they become intertwined in a perilous conundrum concerning privacy, surveillance, and individual freedom.

the circle leviosa

It’s leviosa not leviosaaaaaaaa

Image Source

Ponsoldt’s direction, in regards to the pure technicalities, seals the film in a glossy veneer: It’s seamless, craft-oriented, and straightforward. Matthew Libatique’s crisp cinematography aids in this department, too, along with Lisa Lassek’s hermetically sealed editing style. The acting, on the other hand, does drift below par; Watson provides a decent performance. However Hanks does not play the villain well—not enough maniacal sincerity. This is the same for Oswalt’s performance. Dare I say he has a face one would want to punch and bruise. Coltrane clocks in with mediocrity, but not Boyega, who, conversely, delivers an impressive performance as the guilty and paranoid layman who stumbles upon the diabolical secret. The overall lack of convincing acting, notwithstanding a top-tier cast, does come as a surprise; in Ponsoldt’s previous films, he elicited fantastic performances from Jason Segel, Jesse Eisenberg, Miles Teller, and Shailene Woodley. Maybe the script did not provide the fodder, but I digress.

Where Ponsoldt and writing partner, David Eggers, went wrong is their shaping—or lack thereof—the conceptual chassis for the film. For starters, the technology/internet company as society’s mortal nemesis, eager to supplant the masses in the name of human perfectibility, is a hackneyed conception; we can blame Eggers for his relying on such a trope in the novel. This is not to say Ponsoldt is off the hook, for his film is an adaptation. Our writing duo decides to split two polars: the heartfelt coming-of-age drama, and the Orwellian techno-thriller and drama—replete with Pynchonian paranoia. Their sitting on the fence, their genre obstinance,  disseminates tonal inconsistencies, which, invariably, become the bane of THE CIRCLE. Rather than steadfastly committing to the aforementioned techno-thriller, Ponsoldt and Eggers try to mix a double-double: one shot heart, the other, paranoia. In doing so, their goal is admirable, though very few artists can pull off such a cocktail. By way of example: Ridley Scott for BLADE RUNNER, or Thomas Pynchon for any one of his novels. It takes real precision and unfettered genius—both of which Ponsoldt and Eggers do not possess.

the circle gump

Just when you think ol’ Forrest Gump did it all . . .

Image Source

THE CIRCLE is loath to lock itself within a particular conceptualization. Crudely and reductively put, it promulgates an apt caveat: Social media, internet and technology companies, the internet itself, will sour in time; no societal tenet can exist without the big bad wolf’s tampering. With that being said, its message does not make up for its crucial flaws: naked tonal inconsistency, mediocre acting and writing. Likewise, Ponsoldt’s technical direction. If you’re a fan of the novel, reread the novel. And if you’re looking for some anti-fascist art, look no further than Thomas Pynchon. Or if you subscribe to such philosophies, finish reading this sentence, delete a social media app or two, and go for a walk—just don’t go and watch THE CIRCLE.

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

John is a transplant from New England. In a different life, he would have been a choreographer for Richard Koufey and the Torrance Community Dance Group.

You may also like...