The Circle slammed as 'ham-fisted,' 'dated,' 'bland' by critics
The second collaboration between Tom Hanks and Dave Eggers arrives in theaters this weekend. After starring last year's A Hologram for the King, Hanks is also a big part of The Circle, director James Ponsoldt's adaptation of Eggers' 2013 novel. Hanks plays the co-founder of the titular organization, a mysterious and powerful Internet corporation that recruits bright young talents like Emma Watson's Mae Holland. Over the course of the story, Mae struggles to balance the benefits of working at such a hip and modern institution (good pay, health care coverage) with the technology's increasingly creepy violations of privacy.
Unfortunately, for many critics, The Circle fell short of the mark. Several writers wrote that the film's attempt at techno-satire was just a little too obvious, especially for a media culture already awash in better-executed versions like Black Mirror. Tasha Robinson's review for The Verge called it "a toothless, bland satire of a Google fantasy dystopia." EW's Chris Nashawaty wrote that "Ponsoldt and Eggers are making a satire, but they don't seem to understand that good satire requires a light touch rather than a heavy hand."
Read a selection of The Circle reviews below.
Chris Nashawaty (Entertainment Weekly)
"Hey, did you know that technology is a double-edged sword? That all of the byte-sized computing power that's supposed to liberate us may also be enslaving us? This is the earth-shattering revelation at the heart of The Circle — a disappointingly glib corporate conspiracy thriller starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks. It's a movie that desperately wants to be timely and relevant, warning us about the Brave New World threats we all face when it comes to privacy, surveillance, and freedom. But it's so cartoony and ham-fisted it sabotages its own argument."
Tasha Robinson (The Verge)
"In theory, having real human faces attached to some of The Circle's more unlikely statements and beliefs should humanize the story, making it more grounded and real, and raising the stakes. In practice, the film version feels even more disconnected from reality than the book. Where the book feels deliberately arch, the film just feels vague and out of touch. The modern technological tug-of-war between privacy and security is a real and significant issue. The version of that conflict in the film version of The Circle is bland, neutered, and cartoony."
Peter Travers (Rolling Stone)
"There's a theme being toyed with here, about how we the people are contributing to our own exploitation. But the reveal is as retro as the first smartphone. The Circle feels dull, dated and ripped from yesterday's headlines. It flatlines while you're watching it."
Owen Gleiberman (Variety)
"The Circle is so clinical in its paranoia that it doesn't hit many emotional buttons, but it's the rare conversation-piece thriller that asks its audience: What sort of society do you really want? The movie shows us what it looks like when people have been convinced to share so much of themselves that they no longer have any selves left."
Glenn Kenny (The New York Times)
"Lampooning the simple-mindedness of utopian web clichés was arguably part of Mr. Eggers's point, but much of that point is often muddled in the book. And it's simply incoherent in the movie. The novel is at its most trenchantly funny when depicting the exhausting nature of virtual social life, and it's in this area, too, that the movie gets its very few knowing laughs. But it's plain, not much more than 15 minutes in, that without the story's paranoid aspects you're left with a conceptual framework that's been lapped three times over by the likes of, say, the Joshua Cohen novel Book of Numbers, or the HBO comedy series Silicon Valley."
David Sims (The Atlantic)
"Twenty-two years later comes James Ponsoldt's The Circle, a new piece of cyber-horror to scoff at, one that predicts a future in which everyone will tie their lives into their online identities, and cameras will monitor our every move. Wait, I hear you say, that sounds eerily prescient! It should be—and yet, The Circle has absolutely no grasp on its own tone. It veers from insidious social commentary to wildly absurd comedy sometimes within the same conversation, warning of a world where we may use Facebook to vote, but also have microchips implanted in our children's bones. As a satire, The Circle might have been worth a few giggles, but as a deadly serious drama, it's laughable in an entirely different way."
Benjamin Lee (The Guardian)
"The film is filled with intriguing questions about the balance of our social and professional lives and how they intermingle, and whether, with increased surveillance and the knowledge that we're being watched, our behavior would gradually improve. But The Circle is all foreplay, playfully prodding without providing a satisfying payoff."
David Edelstein (Vulture)
"The movie isn't as bad as some of the early reviews have suggested. (It was kept from critics until its opening at the Tribeca Film Festival, a madhouse with appearances by the director and stars.) It's in the honorable tradition of the Elia Kazan–Budd Schulberg morality play A Face in the Crowd. But it pales beside the terrifically scary (and depressing) British TV series Black Mirror, which finds more imaginative ways to portray our happy surrender to technology."