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The Bock’s Office: ‘The Circle’ is far from a well-rounded thriller

Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks) addresses a crowd of employees in "The Circle." The movie is about a new employee at an Internet company who starts to find fault with the business's practices.

Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks) addresses a crowd of employees in "The Circle." The movie is about a new employee at an Internet company who starts to find fault with the business's practices.

If there’s one thing we can learn from “The Circle,” it’s that people will always trust a friendly face and shiny gizmos even when it’s to their blatantly obvious detriment. I’d say, “Google it,” but that’s just what they want you to do.

If you go...

“The Circle,” rated PG-13

Rating: 2 out of 4 stars

Running time: 110 minutes

Starring: Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, John Boyega and Karen Gillan

Now playing at Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas

Andy Bockelman

Andy Bockelman is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society, and his movie reviews appear in Explore Steamboat and the Craig Daily Press. Contact him at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com.

Find more columns by Bockelman here.

Twenty-something Mae Holland (Emma Watson) has been eking out a living with a dull, unsatisfying customer service job, but her lucky number may have just come up when a friend (Karen Gillan) arranges for an interview at one of the most prestigious companies in the world.

The Circle is a tech giant that’s known not only for its innovations on the Internet but also its sterling reputation with its workers. The new position is not only a step up for Mae but also a godsend for her financially struggling parents (Bill Paxton, Glenne Headly).

Still, the atmosphere is a little much for her to handle, with expectations that she attend an endless amount of “voluntary” corporate events and share more about her life than she’s comfortable.

And, it’s only the beginning.

At the behest of The Circle’s founders (Tom Hanks, Patton Oswalt), Mae becomes the prototype for a unique assignment — spending every waking hour being documented and completely transparent. It’s a project that at first she relishes but soon comes to learn what she may be setting in motion not only for her workplace but the entire planet.

Playing average isn’t exactly Watson’s strong suit, but she makes it work as best she can as a California girl with no big dreams in particular who’s suddenly thrust into the spotlight as the subject of a less experimental version of “The Truman Show.” But, at least Jim Carrey didn’t have to see a running commentary from the troll community.

It’s a rare turn for Hanks in this light, although this is more nuanced than his buffoonish effort in “The Ladykillers” or the dark antihero mobster of “Road to Perdition.” No, Eamon Bailey comes off as your favorite uncle, sporting a more dignified salt-and-pepper beard than Steve Jobs had, a much better haircut than Bill Gates and the aggressively casual wardrobe Mark Zuckerberg will still be wearing in 30 years, all while coming off more as a motivational speaker than a businessman as he discusses the future with a group of overly eager Millennials.

He’s the kind of villain you refuse to admit could have any bad intentions, but just wait…

Gillan and John Boyega offset each other as Mae’s contemporaries, respectively playing her best friend Annie — who’s a little jealous of her gal pal rising through the ranks so quickly — and Kalden, a guy who’s more than a little standoffish regarding the insincere intimacy among employees of The Circle. You can tell because he’s literally always standing off to the side.

Subtle.

In this world, it would appear there are only two kinds of people: those that value their privacy and those who equate a lack of openness with secrecy and subversion.

There’s no room for any middle ground, but that doesn’t stop characters from hopping from one end of the spectrum to another, namely Mae, who goes from enjoying solitude while kayaking the waters of San Francisco Bay to subscribing to the concept that there’s no reason to ever be alone in the digital age.

Funny how well that works out for a company that’s progressing beyond email and social media to equip people and locations everywhere with mini-cameras. After all, is it really surveillance when you participate willingly?

Also, at what point do you file paperwork to shift from being a corporation to a cult?

Author Dave Eggers co-adapts his own book for the screen, and though there are still many nods to the greats like George Orwell’s views on totalitarianism and Aldous Huxley’s techno-worship, the movie version of his novel has no guts in executing these big ideas with a changed ending and an overall story that lacks coherence, not to mention some unavoidable plot holes that somehow get mended for the sake of everything coming full circle, no pun intended.

The cast doesn’t seem all that committed either, though the dense dialogue doesn’t help, nor does the simplistic portrayal of the relationship between Baby Boomers like Hanks and the younger generation. At least Paxton seems to be taking it seriously, one of the late actor’s final film roles that of Mae’s multiple sclerosis-afflicted dad, whom his daughter gets an unexpected eyeful of in the boudoir for all the world to see.

Score one for transparency!

Unlike the firm for which it’s named, “The Circle” has no clear mission statement and seems destined to appeal to a very minimal audience — either Luddites living off the grid or social extremists who think it doesn’t go far enough — released in the “Who cares?” wasteland right before summer. Big Brother may be watching, but not many more.

Contact Andy Bockelman at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com or follow him on Twitter @TheBocksOffice.

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