This post was originally published on News Cult in April 2017.

Starring: Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, Karen Gillan, Patton Oswalt, John Boyega

Director: James Ponsoldt

Running Time: 110 Minutes

Rating: PG-13, Because When You Have Cameras Everywhere, You’re Gonna See Something

Release Date: April 28, 2017

As the tagline to The Circle informs us, “Knowing everything is good. Knowing everything is better.” As the plot of The Circle demonstrates to us, nailing a tone is good; nailing several different tones is really hard.

This film’s titular company should feel intimately familiar to anyone alive and plugged-in in 2017. The Circle is basically Google and Facebook combined, and considering the extensive connectivity in today’s major tech and social companies, that combination is not exactly far from reality. Throw the NSA and its massive data collection into this stew, bandy about disturbing maxims like “secrets are lies,” and you’ve got yourself a formula for a relevant paranoid (or not so paranoid) thriller.

Success in such an endeavor requires a protagonist that makes sense or at least one whose motivations can be tracked. Alas, Mae Holland (Emma Watson), the Circle’s latest recruit, swings wildly between suspicion and full-bore acceptance of the surveillance state. She is wildly uncomfortable in a standout early scene when she is indoctrinated into the corporate culture, but soon enough she is working alongside the company heads (Tom Hanks and Patton Oswalt) and pushing forward their most privacy-invading initiatives. A mysterious Circle employee (John Boyega) warns Mae about the dangers of what lies ahead, and it is never clear if she trusts him or completely ignores him. Ultimately, she seeks to expose those at the top, but an oddly pitched final shot prompts the question, “To what end?”

The one unqualified success of The Circle is the series of online comments that populate the screen at various points. Mae volunteers to record her whole life to demonstrate her belief in putting cameras everywhere, and her online followers chime in with their various observations. Most of them are along the lines of “You go, Mae!” or “Should we be watching this?” But every tenth one is some hilariously banal declaration like “making a sandwich” or “time to go poo.” This type of humor hits you sideways and buoys The Circle – if only this sort of controlled unpredictability could have been maintained throughout.

The Circle is Recommended If You Like: Nerve, Evil Tom Hanks, YouTube Comments, One More Chance to See Bill Paxton on the Big Screen

Grade: 3 out of 5 Cheeses From Last Year