“The Circle” is a paranoid social media melodrama      

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As technology continues to advance, social networks proliferate throughout our society. There is a growing demand to digitally connect with each other at almost every level. The line between our private and socially public lives is becoming more blurred. Depending on your point of view, this can be a blessing, a curse or both.

In “The Circle,” Tom Hanks stars as Eamon Bailey, charismatic CEO of the world’s largest and most powerful tech and social media company. Dressed in casual sports ware, sporting trimmed facial hair and coolly strutting across the stage with his coffee cup, he smugly carries himself as the spiritual leader of every California Millennial.

As Mae, Emma Watson, fresh off her remarkable performance in “Beauty and the Beast,” co-stars as a jaded customer service rep landing the job of her dreams at The Circle. This contemporary state of the art compound provides everything for its Bay Area employees, who creatively work on the cutting edge of technology at their own pace.

Based on the novel by Dave Eggers, who co-wrote the screenplay with director James Ponsoldt, the premise of personal privacy is sound, but the presentation is exaggerated and condescending to almost anyone familiar with the industry. It’s as if they just discovered social media and pushed the issues to a worst-case scenario.

The quality production, strong cast and aspiring proposition could promote vigorous debate about data privacy, but the clearly ambitious goals fall flat at every turn. Millennials might reject the cult-like figures and lack of basic logic, but its possible their parents might be more receptive. Because these movie critics spent decades in the technology industry, so much of this “business case” just didn’t make much sense.

We saw a similar theme in “The Truman Show” (1998), but that was presented as a fanciful farce. “The Circle” makes a serious big budget attempt at addressing this issue as a moralistic satire. The production sets are futuristic enough to appear on the cutting edge while Hanks and Watson try to convince us with their immense credibility.

For a group whose credo is, “chaos of the web made elegant,” the proposals from these “methodical geniuses” are peculiarly reckless. They move forward with less than a nanosecond of discussion or thought. That doesn’t necessarily have to be a showstopper, but we struggled to rationalize the apparent disparity.

The Circle presents such a socially enlightened corporate ethic, but even with Tom Hanks initial appearance, this heroic CEO emits suspicious undertones from the moment he enters the room. He proudly proclaims, “Knowing is good, but knowing everything is better.” So why not attach cameras everywhere and record everything?

The dangers of an omnipresent big brother are well documented. However, a person’s behavior is better when being watched, exposing secrets exposes lies, and it makes criminals accountable. Through social media, you could pay taxes, register to vote and could even make voting mandatory, the truest form of democracy. As the audience is two steps ahead, we “discover” there are severe drawbacks to such innovation, duh!

“The Circle” is 110 minutes and rated PG-13 for strong language and thematic elements. Social media is a tool that can and is used for good and evil purposes. Lessons need to be dispensed, but hopefully at a higher level than a big budget after school special. Thankfully, raw data is not the same as useful information, but privacy is essential.

The Internet and social media are here to stay and will further advance and encroach on our current way of life. However, there are no serious proposals to join the Amish way of life. So, we encourage filmmakers to continue to explore the potentials and dangers of such a medium, but just consider Mae’s biggest fear, “Scared of unfulfilled potential.”

Ron’s Rating: C    Leigh’s Rating: D

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Ron & Leigh Martel