When it was first published, I weighed in on Dave Eggers’ book, The Circle, as I found a lot of the reaction to the book seemed defensive by those who mainline social media Kool-Aid. (You can read the review of the book for the TL;DR version of what I’m about to say about the film.)
I’m not a fan of those who judge a film by how closely it follows the book on which it is based. But I will note there are some backstories that would have been helpful to include, like how did a company emerge that would crush and replace Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and Google? (Non-spoiler answer: The founder of the company developed a non-hackable, secure way for everyone to have a digital identity (called TruYou). TruYou is mentioned a lot, but the disappearance of the current incumbent players is treated merely as a suspension of disbelief — that or the fictional device used when fictional companies, say Stark Industries, or cities, say Gotham City, are used to suggest a real version.
One of the criticisms of the book was Eggers’ boasting in interviews that he didn’t spend a lot of time researching the technology. The film feels the same way (unlike, say, something written by William Gibson). However, the film is more of a satire (not the funny SNL kind, but the literary device) than a techno-thriller, sci-fi drama. Eggers gets the technology “close enough” to make the points he’s trying to make.
Moreover, the past three years of the real-life march of technology has helped prove that Eggers didn’t need to know the workings of technology to predict the outcome that occurs when we start believing that any new announcement by Google or Facebook will lead to a greater good for mankind.
Downside: Unfortunately, the movie is boring at times.
But despite that, the movie is worth seeing for two reasons: Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson. They are allowed to develop as characters and they both have the acting skills to make us believe they are those characters and not the cardboard cutouts seen in most internet-tech films.
Only one other actor rises to his task in the film: the late Bill Paxton as the father of Emma Watson’s character.
Bottomline: The movie, like the book, does point out the unintended consequences of new technology. (Would we be better off today if Twitter was never created?) But it’s not a great movie — it’s not compelling and convincing beyond the two principals.
Recommendation: For people who think Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon have taken over the world in evil ways, go see it.
Another Recommendation: Last fall (2016), I wrote a brief review of one episode of in the second season of Black Mirror called Nosedive. It, too, is a satire (the Jonathon Swift kind) of social-reputation gone amoke. While it differs in direction, it displays a lot more intensity by using sci-fi techniques that place it in the “near future” rather than the now future.