Ever since Snowden went public about the extent of the NSA’s surveillance capabilities, fear of a real-world Big Brother has once again become a hot topic of discussion, to the point where the forthcoming release of James Ponsoldt’s The Circle—which was adapted from Dave Eggers’ 2013 novel and tracks a young tech worker (Emma Watson) as she uncovers the sinister implications of the widespread surveillance practiced by the company she works for—feels not only fitting but a bit too on-the-nose. Some of the best films ever made engage directly with the political realities of their moment, but whenever commercial mainstream cinema makes a blatant attempt at thematizing hot-button issues, one can’t help but wonder whether such political interest arises more from genuine aspirations of entering the discourse or from a desire to generate bank by exploiting the current anxieties of the moviegoing public. The latest trailer for The Circle—which, despite presenting lots of footage not seen in the first trailer, continues to lean heavily on notions of invaded privacy and of the culpability of corporations in producing excessively powerful surveillance tech—does little to dispel these concerns.
And yet, we’re willing to give the film the benefit of the doubt on account of the talent involved. Ponsoldt, whose maneuver into cerebral narrative territory is intriguing given the intimate, small-scale humanism of his previous work, has demonstrated an ability to draw grounded, powerful performances from his actors (if any performance in this film comes close to matching Jason Segel’s turn as David Foster Wallace in The End of the Tour, then The Circle will have been well worth the wait). If anyone’s going to anchor politically charged cinema in nuanced, well-developed characters, it would be Ponsoldt. Of additional interest is Tom Hanks’ seeming turn as the villain, which, obviously, is hugely against-type, and though Hanks’ role in a previous adaptation of an Eggers novel (A Hologram For the King) fell flat with critics, he is such a reliably sturdy actor that his presence alone is enough to generate anticipation for The Circle. On top of all this, the film features a panoply of some of today’s most promising young stars, from Watson to John Boyega to Ellar Coltrane.
And of course, the idea of a post-Snowden film about surveillance is not in itself bad. If The Circle can provide a thought-provoking, nuanced take on the modern surveillance state that is simultaneously original and resonant with the real world, then we might very well have a compelling political film on our hands.
Check out the full trailer above, and catch The Circle in theaters when it premieres on April 27.