Arts & Leisure

“The Circle” the shape of things to come?

EMMA WATSON looks over her shoulder – and maybe we should, too – “The Circle.”

By Jim Tortolano

If the road to hell has always been paved with good intentions, these days they must use microprocessors instead. If you’re one of those people getting a wee bit nervous about the proliferation of cameras everywhere, then “The Circle” will scratch your worried itch.

This film, written and directed by James Pondsoldt, traces the path of Mae Holland (Emma Watson) from new guppy (new employee) to fanatic to disillusioned rebel in the world of the world’s biggest social media giant, The Circle.

Tom Hanks plays Eamon Bailey, an affable and casual spin on the Steve Jobs type, whose agenda may be overtly beneficial but whose actions could be anything but.

Watson takes an entry-level job at The Circle in “customer experience,” leaving behind male friend Mercer (Ellar Coltrane) and entering a dizzying world, which is one part Disneyland, one part Apple-Google-Facebook, and one part 1933 Germany. The story demonstrates the many good things which technology can brings us, but slowly shows the snarl behind the smile.

The main issue here is the balance between transparency and privacy. After a near-death experience, Mae buys into The Circle’s philosophy that “Secrets are lies” and becomes a media darling, convincingly shilling for a world in which no one – good, evil or just typical – can escape the prying eye of technology which has outrun its morality.

Watson is pitch-perfect as a low-key tech worker flattered and manipulated by charming scoundrels – people who don’t see themselves as scoundrels, probably – who will push people close to her down a dangerous path. The Circle starts to toll the bell for any of its enemies or obstacles, including the Bill of Rights.

Hanks takes a delightfully nuanced turn here as the villain who thinks that what benefits him will benefit the world regardless of the collateral cost. His status as America’s favorite nice-guy movie star makes this all the more impressive.

This is not a perfect “Circle.” Mae’s conversions are not entirely convincing, and the sheeplike acceptance of the near-obliteration of privacy may be a bit too cynical. But as a cautionary tale about giving too much power to nice-seeming people who are “just trying to make a better world,” it works as smoothly as your smartphone.

“The Circle” is rated PG-13 for some strong language, a brief sexual situation and some thematic elements including drug use.

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