Problematic dialogue, underwhelming storyline renders ‘The Circle’ less than impressive

Posted on May 3 2017 - 8:00am by Daniel Payne

In a time when dystopian movies seem to arrive every other week, all with relatively similar outlooks, “The Circle” offered a break from what has become a homogenous genre.

the circle

Emma Watson as Mae Holland in ‘The Circle.” (Photo courtesy: STX Entertainment)

A bright, realistic world that looks more like the present than the future encourages the viewer to take its critique on our society more seriously. Unfortunately, problematic dialogue and underwhelming storytelling transform a hopeful concept into a less-than-impressive film.

The film’s dedication to a realistic sense of the future is prominent throughout. The scenes are not dark or dismal as in many dystopian movies; sunlight and natural scenery dominate the film. Modern offices within The Circle, a dominant tech company and centerpiece of the movie, are no more intimidating than any other workspace in the world today. It isn’t instantly clear what about the world of The Circle is scary, and the movie’s nuanced approach to introducing the subject of concern is admirable. Many movies make it clear whether a person or subject is good or bad, black or white – this film acknowledges the gray.

“The Circle” respects the audience’s intellect, allowing it to decide what it thinks is good or bad about the company. There are few visual or musical cues as to which characters or perspectives are evil and which are good. Instead, the movie accepts the space between good and evil in which all people reside.

Perhaps this is why characters make few judgments about the company: The filmmakers didn’t want to overemphasize any particular view on the questions of privacy, democracy or security as they are presented. These themes are interesting and provoking, leading viewers to drift into abstract thoughts about them instead of following a particular narrative.

The movie is focused more on the company and themes it implies than characters or dialogue, which becomes painfully obvious whenever Mae Holland (Emma Watson) is on screen. Her bland, obvious comments sometimes made me wonder if the movie would have changed much if she were without dialogue altogether. Her time spent staring at screens with reactions the audience predicted long before they reached her face would have been better used deepening the plot in some way.

While the film’s concept may be thought-provoking, the plot does nothing with it. There is little character development or movement in the story. Most of the characters are introduced and remain stagnant throughout the film. The dialogue doesn’t help this cause, either, as their lines come across as clunky and awkward in almost every circumstance.

When other characters, such as Ty (John Boyega), do have important plot developments to share, they are vague and unhelpful in giving the screenplay any sort of depth.

The audience may understand the consequences of some plot points, but the details of what actually happens are nowhere to be found. A concept that could offer endless discussion and debate is abandoned when the film refuses to allow its characters to grow or have more than one dimension.

The film is visually and musically appealing, with creative uses of cinematography and music to keep a seemingly plotless movie moving. What were passable uses of music and visuals could have been extraordinary uses if accompanied by an interesting plot.

“The Circle” is a film full of potential that was wasted by the neglect of screenplay and plot. It offers movement toward more realistic, sophisticated dystopian movies, but it lacks the key element of all movies: storytelling.

Grade: C