Categories
Drama Movies Reviews

Review: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Distributor: Sony Pictures Entertainment
Director:
Marielle Heller
Writers:
Micah Fitzerman-Blue, Noah Harpster
Composer:
Nate Heller
Starring:
Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Susan Kelechi Watson, Chris Cooper

PBS TV star Fred Rogers, host of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood for the better part of half a century, became the voice of gentleness, kindness, and love for generations of children who came to know him as one of the most enigmatic people on television. As the world continues to struggle with waves upon waves of societal unrest and hostility, culture seems to be looking back and finding sources of joy and meaning to help resolve the tensions of modern life. One of those ways comes in the recent revival of Mr. Rogers as a cultural presence as we’ve seen in two recent very popular movies: Won’t You Be My Neighbhor? and the newly released A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: Depiction of physical abuse, characters are punched
Language/Crude Humor: Some language including h*** and d***
Sexual Content: None
Other Negative Content: None
Positive Content: Themes of forgiveness, family, and love 

Review

We’re in the midst of a Mr. Rogers renaissance, and I’m loving it. Last year’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor? became one of my new favorite films ever and one of the greatest documentaries I’ve ever seen. It’s not surprising why something so pure would be affecting. Fred Rogers was a man of gentle faith and kindness. He was meek in the most honorable definition of the word and he inspired love and kindness in the hearts of every person he met by offering them a level of dignity, respect, and emotional connection that’s rare in people. 

For those who don’t know him and those living outside of the United States, the late Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister who began a public broadcast children’s show called Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood which ran off and on television for the better part of half a century. In a modern, cynical world where we regularly tear down our most respected and powerful people for minor sins and where great sinners are often left to their own devices, it’s hard to imagine how to make the world a better place. Our recent fascination with Mr. Rogers suggests a culture of fascination with kindness and gentleness for it’s own sake and a hope that maybe we can work our ways out of the current societal moment by the sheer force of kindness. 

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is the second film in this phenomena and it’s a movie that on paper definitely has no right to work. Having what is essentially an Oscar-bait biopic about Mr. Rogers starring Tom Hanks in the lead role comes off as too sacarine and manipulative to be halfway compelling. The best way I’ve heard it described is as if this were an SNL parody version of a Tom Hanks movie. Coming in the shadow of last year’s documentary, it comes off as something of a lame “me, too” effort much in the way Hollywood frequently pairs movies together like Olympus Has Fallen/White House Down, This is the End/The World’s End and Christopher Robin/Goodbye Christopher Robin. 

It’s to the movie’s credit that A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a more lively and creative film than it should’ve been. Director Marielle Heller (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) brings a unique visual identity to a script that’s a mostly overwraught textbook docudrama and gives it an extra layer of depth and meaning it wouldn’t otherwise have. By itself, it’s a pretty atypical biopic if only in the sense that it’s not technically about Mr. Rogers for the mostpart. The main character is Lloyd Vogul. Lloyd is a fictionalized Esquire Magazine journalist who is assigned to interview Fred Rogers following a late in life run-in with his estranged father.

The trailers did not sell me on the detail of focusing on Lloyd’s perspective on its subject. It reminded me of the 2015 biopic The End of the Tour which sidelined its extremely fun lead character performance of Jason Segal as David Foster Wallace by giving Jesse Eisenberg’s character an equal prescence and voice in the film. As a result, it slightly devolved into a rutterless drama about a boring journalist/fanboy getting into vapid arguments with the nationally renowned author of Infinite Jest. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood isn’t dissimilar, but David Foster Wallace wasn’t Fred Rogers. Mr. Rogers acts as a surprising anti-thesis to a film that addresses a group of character’s real life adult problems and lifelong unresolved feelings of abandonment and estrangement. As a result, his arrival in any scene in the film immediately arrests problems and lets the characters talk directly about their feelings without loosing their temper. 

I can’t say the actual core of the film, being Matthew Rhys and Chris Cooper’s drama about overcoming familial estrangment and forgiving one another, works on its own terms. Both actors are strangely cast and mostly centralize their characters on how aggressive and slimey they can respectively be. They don’t get compelling until much later in the film when they start overcoming their personalities. Everything interesting and unique in the film comes as an extension of Tom Hank’s immaculate performance as Fred Rogers and how he serves to convince jaded and angry people they have the ability to overcome their pain. When he’s on screen, the movie comes alive and the incredible enigma that was his personality gets put on full display.

The movie also finds ways to break the limitations of a traditional biopic with its visual language. It cuts loose frequently to use the aesthetics of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood to find creative ways to flesh the characters out by setting them in contrast to the childish, colorful world of the TV show. There are hallucinatory dream sequences where Lloyd imagines himself on the set of the Make Believe interacting with puppets and most of the establishment shots for the setting use model sets similar to the show’s opening. The contrast of this and Lloyd and his father’s real world violence, verbal abuse, and cynicism creates a stark division in the film that really reinforces why Mr. Rogers still touches the lives of adults in addition to his intended audience of children. All of this is in service to the idea that formed the creative core of Fred’s beliefs: That everyone deserves to be loved and dignified. Without Tom Hank’s performance and Marielle Heller’s unique visual language, I wouldn’t call this film anything special. It’s all too perfunctory and well-trotted territory. With these elements, the movie comes to life and justifies its existence.

Sadly, the movie doesn’t explore the nature of Fred’s personality and how it came out of his Presbyterian faith. While it’s referenced in this and Won’t You Be My Neighborhood? multiple times, it’s rarely credited as anything beyond a datapoint in his life, which is sad because it’s clear it was vital to his beliefs and motivations. He changed the world through Christian loving kindness and the world only treats him as an enigma. 

All that said, you’ll probably get more out of this movie if you haven’t already seen Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, if only because many of the interesting historical details about Fred Roger’s life get explored in detail in the documentary and then come off as somewhat showy in this film if you already know about them. That said, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood will be a movie that most who have seen will fondly remember. 

Categories
Action/Adventure Drama DVD/BluRay Movies Reviews

Review: Apollo 13

Distributor: Universal Pictures
Director: Ron Howard
Writer: William Broyles Jr, Al Reinert
Composer: James Horner
Starring: Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise, Ed Harris, Kathleen Quinlan

This past Saturday, July 20th, the world celebrated a half-century since the first time man landed on the moon. It was an incredible day of commemorating one of humanity’s greatest technological accomplishments. In honor of that feat, please enjoy this belated review of Ron Howard’s classic historical thriller Apollo 13

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: Sequences of suspense and near-death experiences, no gore.

Language/Crude Humor: Some language throughout including s*** and g**d***.

Sexual Content: Nothing depicted, some innuendo and an offscreen sex scene.

Other Negative Content: None.

Positive Content: Themes of problem solving and survival.

Apollo 13 movie image Tom Hanks

Review

Last week I was blindsided when I found out that the previous Saturday was the 50th anniversary of the first landing on the Moon by Apollo 11. I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that given that there was a time in my life that I would’ve likely had that date written on my calendar months in advance. I was raised in the romance of the space race by my father who taught me all about the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union between 1957 and 1969 to put the first man on the moon. I probably should’ve gotten the hint that in the past year we got two well-made movies about the moon landing with Damien Chazelle’s First Man and CNN’s documentary Apollo 11

My daftness aside, I’ve spent the past few days revisiting some of my favorite space race movies in honor of mankind’s greatest technological accomplishment. Among them is Ron Howard’s 1995 historical thriller Apollo 13. Maybe there were more appropriate picks to revisit on such an anniversary than the film about America’s only failed mission to the moon but I had two reasons to justify this error. The first was that Apollo 13 is one of my all-time favorite films. The second is that there’s a certain irony to watching a movie about the irrelevancy of the space program after having forgotten the anniversary. 

Irrelevancy is a huge theme in the film after the movie’s opening. Apollo 13 was planned to be the third moon mission in April of 1970 less than a year after Apollo 11 yet the public had already gotten so bored with manned space flight that no major network planned to broadcast NASA’s live TV broadcasts with the crew. At the film’s beginning, major politicians are already starting to push to end the Apollo program with their third flight. Perversely, the thing that get’s the eyes of the public back on Apollo 13 is the morbid drama that played out.

At first, things seem quite normal (although as flight commander Jim Lovell says, there is nothing normal about landing on the moon) when halfway on their journey a massive explosion rocks the spacecraft and starts spewing oxygen into the vacuum of space. The explosion has the secondary effect of slowly draining the ship’s electricity in addition to the ship’s oxygen supply which leaves the crew with the task to shut down the dying spacecraft days from the earth before life support goes out. From here on out the story follows the desperate attempt of the three astronauts and the men on the ground at Mission Control as they have to work their way through engineering problems and find a way to get the crew back to Earth safely.   

The film is based on the book Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13 which was co-written by the ship’s commander Jim Lovell. Naturally, the movie version of Lovell is played by the ever immortal Tom Hanks. Part of what makes the story work so excellently is its dedication to playing out the events as they happened. There is some hyperbole such as the scenes involving drama between the astronauts which didn’t happen but other than that the movie is played out remarkably similar to how the events of the actual Apollo 13 disaster occured. The movie relies entirely on real human drama as it transpired in real life.  

Apollo 13 is also one of the most spectacular special effects films ever made. Much like the then-recent Jurassic Park, the movie’s blend of CGI and practical effects is deeply engrossing in a way most modern films overreliant on CGI aren’t. Part of this is thanks to how the film executed much of the effects. CGI is only used for shots of the spacecraft’s exterior and they’re all very well composed. For the film’s anti-gravity scenes, the production had to shoot all of the segments aboard Apollo 13 in anti-gravity simulators which involve flying a KC-135 aircraft at an extremely low angle at high speed to simulate weightlessness for several second intervals. This is the same method that NASA uses to train its astronauts for zero gravity. The method only creates weightlessness for approximately 23 seconds which means that all of the takes had to be recorded quickly. In the final cut, the effect is indistinguishable from seeing the actual actors floating in space. 

There’s probably a light critique that could be made about the script overall. It’s not a story crafted around traditional character arcs which makes the film feel strange at times. Ron Howard is a workman by most standards as his highly eclectic filmography has shown. When he has a good script he makes great movies but when he has a bad script he’s unable to elevate the material. Certainly, Apollo 13 does feel the sting at times of being produced via functionality rather than auteur intent. That said, it’s a story fundamentally about how highly trained and intelligent people act when their backs are against the wall. It’s not a traditional morality play as much as it is a series of puzzles and practical problems that have to be worked out.

In that, it’s immensely suspenseful. The movie does a good job expressing at every point just how high the dramatic stakes are if the characters fail at any step of the process. One wrong move means flying off into deep space forever, suffocating to death or burning up in reentry. For what it is, Apollo 13 is a uniquely memorable and effective film and one of the best stories ever told about the space race. 

Categories
Drama Movies Reviews

Retro Review: Saving Private Ryan

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Director: Steven Spielberg

Writers: Robert Rodat

Starring: Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Tom Sizemore

Rated: R

Saving Private Ryan is one of the more popular WWII films to come out of the late 20th century. Since I hadn’t seen it yet (why yes, I do live under a rock), I was looking forward to finally getting around to watching it, since I had heard almost nothing but good things about the film. First impressions: I was not disappointed.

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: Aside from the standard gunfire and explosions of war movies, the movie features frequent blood splatter, anger-fueled beatings of individual (unarmed) soldiers, images of people burning to death, and several hand to hand fights, including one where a character is slowly stabbed through the heart with a knife. Graphic wounds are also shown, particularly in the movie’s opening scene, where disemboweled soldiers have their intestines lying next to them and others lose their limbs both on- and off-screen.

Language: People don’t tend to watch their mouths while on the battlefield, and the movie reflects this. Most curses I can think of are uttered at least once, with f*** being the most common.

Drug/Alcohol Use: An injured soldier is given shots of morphine.

Sexual Content: A soldier describes a woman’s breasts while retelling a story from home. Another soldier retells a memory that includes his brother in a sexual encounter. Both stories are somewhat graphically described.

Spiritual Content: A sniper habitually quotes Bible verses as he kills enemy soldiers.

Other Negative Content: The main characters take on a general air of hopelessness as they proceed on their mission, to the point that most of them at some point abandon any sense of morality.

Positive Content: The top army official is shown to care deeply about the loss of a mother who has lost three of her four sons to the war. War itself is consistently portrayed as horrific and tragic, never as glorious.

Review

Seventy-five years ago this month, Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy in an event that came to be known as D-Day. This battle played a massive part in ending the Second World War.

Through the lens of history, it can be easy for us to see only the triumph and forget the cost of tragedy and sacrifice it forced onto many men and their families. Saving Private Ryan wastes no time dispelling this single-minded view. Upon its opening, we’re met with an atmosphere of palpable tension as the soldiers quietly wait to reach the shore. What follows is a brutal, unforgiving sequence of death and dismemberment as the front line troops are slaughtered by all manner of weaponry. The scene cleanly cuts off any romanticizing of what war is like and continues on long enough to let the discomfort and dreadfully sink in.

While this initial scene doesn’t directly tie into the rest of the movie’s plot, it does a grimly wonderful job of setting us up for one of the movie’s most emotionally powerful themes: namely, the characters’ casual acceptance of death, which becomes more and more apparent as the story goes on. Small things like shortening the length of a bet because they figure they might not live that long, or trading dead soldiers’ dog tags as though it were a game, all give off a haunting air of surrender around the squad as we follow them into enemy territory on a questionable and incredibly deadly mission.

The movie follows a cobbled together squad on a mission to find and bring back a family’s final surviving son, whose three brothers have already been killed in the war. This task requires them to enter into enemy territory in search of someone they’ve never seen and whose whereabouts nobody knows. While the characters routinely bring up the question of whether it’s fair or right to risk sacrificing themselves for the sake of a single soldier, I was more engrossed by how subtly chilling it is to watch them all lose their humanity in different ways as they face the horrific nature of war. The acting and writing flow together flawlessly to develop each character’s unique flaws and breaking points. The tone is masterfully tragic while always staying interesting.

In saying this, I should make it clear that the story is quite heavy on both theme and content, and often demands that the viewer reflect on the questions it poses. It’s very much a movie that’s meant to be engaged with rather than watched passively, so if you’re in the market for a lighter viewing experience, this one probably isn’t for you. However, if you have a fairly strong stomach and are willing to mentally and emotionally invest in the movie for its nearly 3-hour runtime, Saving Private Ryan offers a tightly-woven film experience where just about every scene has a long-lasting, powerful payoff.

Categories
Drama Movies Reviews

Review: The Post

Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox

Director: Steven Spielberg

Writers: Liz Hannah, Josh Singer

Composer: John Williams

Stars: Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Bob Odenkirk, Bruce Greenwood.

Genre: Biography, Drama, History

Rating: PG-13

If The Snowman or The Circle taught us anything last year, then it’s that having big names attached to a project can mean nothing in regards to quality. Delving into the historical drama that surrounded the release of the Pentagon Papers, The Post advertises an impressive array of talent: Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, John Williams, and Steven Spielberg. The formula for greatness is there. But can the same be said about the audience’s interest?

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: Right at the start of the film, there is a scene set in the Vietnam War. American soldiers duck and engage in battle when they encounter enemy fire. Some soldiers are shot, but there is no blood or gore.

Language/Crude Humor: The following swear words are spoken roughly seven or fewer times: the f-bomb and its variations, the s-word and its variations, d*mmit, *ss, son of a b*tch, Godd*mn, and Jesus Christ’s name is used in vain.

Drug/Alcohol References: Some characters are seen smoking cigarettes. Alcohol is drunk at social gatherings, though the film doesn’t depict any intoxicated behavior.

Spiritual Content: None.

Sexual Content: None.

Other Negative Content: The entire plot revolves around whether one should publish leaked classified Government files. There is much discussion as to whether they will be charged with collusion, contempt of court, espionage, and treason, and if their actions will impede the Government and its defense forces. Knowing the risks, many characters still push against the law. On a number of occasions, one character is tasked with plagiaristic activities, spying on other news publishers and reporting back their findings. When asked whether it’s legal, other characters merely laugh it off.

Positive Content: The Post is an exploration of what it means for a country to have the freedom of the press, and strongly advocates for one’s First Amendment rights. It also shows the harmful effects of mansplaining. It promotes the idea of standing up for oneself; having confidence in your own ideas and capabilities. The film also conveys the message that sometimes pursuing the greater good isn’t always comfortable.

Review

The Post is good for what it is. If you’re interested in the story behind The Washington Post’s involvement with the Pentagon Papers, then this film is a detailed and thrilling retelling, with talent both in front and behind the camera. It’s competent, yet it also feels rather “standard.”

The first half of the film is rather dense and intellectually intimidating. There is essentially a lot that needs to be established before it can start to roll at a quicker pace. Surprisingly, prior knowledge about the Government’s role in the Vietnam War or the Pentagon Papers isn’t required, though an understanding of the structure of company stocks will prove beneficial.

Essentially the film comes to a stall right at the beginning, focusing on the soldiers overseas, the studies analyzing their effectiveness, the smuggling of those files, and the potentially illegal involvement of The New York Times. On top of this, audiences are also learning about the plethora of characters and their relationships with each other, along with a side plot about the Washington Post’s debut on the Stock Exchange. The pace crawls because The Post’s narrative takes a passive stance, looking at the drama occurring to The New York Times from an outsider’s perspective. The film tells the story-within-the-story, maintaining a narrow focus.

Yet once the drama is dumped on The Post’s desk, and all the groundwork has been painstakingly laid, it finally lurches forth at a breathtaking pace. A time bomb is added, where the script implements a high stakes deadline. This is helped by John Williams’ quietly ticking, softly repetitive soundtrack.

Steven Spielberg does well to make office meetings dramatically compelling. The latter half of the film is thrilling, with each development riveting to watch despite audiences already knowing the historical outcome. The editing is snappy and flows well, breaking up tense conversations with the oddly mesmerizing rhythmic construction of the printing press.

If you find yourself watching YouTube videos that showcase the oddly satisfying loops of manufacturing processes, don’t worry. Spielberg has you covered.

It’s The Post’s complex themes that are the real crux of the movie. Both sides of the core argument are represented. On the one hand, publishing classified documents can be considered an act of treason. Yet on the other, the press needs to commit to their role in serving the public. This push-pull dynamic, along with the layering of the personal stakes for the characters and their business, is what makes The Post an intellectually stimulating analysis on the issue of these conflicting rights.

Yet once the decision has been made and the point of no return has passed, despite the stakes remaining surprisingly high, the excitement surprisingly fizzles out in the third act. A reason for this might be that the film doesn’t sell the nobility of the characters’ motivations; did they really believe in the freedom of the press, or did they just want the glory? It may actually be both, but regardless, the movie ineffectually tries to elevate its heroes when the audience perceives them in a contradictory light.

Another reason may be that Spielberg’s direction isn’t terribly inspired during some portions of the film. Unlike Nolan’s Inception where he has the challenge of portraying the human subconsciousness three levels deep, The Post is a straightforward drama that could be helmed by any number of people in Hollywood. While it can be challenging to make heavy conversational pieces compelling, a lot of the movie feels stock-standard. Once the adrenaline has drained after the second act, the finale feels mind-numbingly twee in comparison.

My brother joked that The Post will earn Oscar nominations by default, and I do have to agree with that assessment. All the performances are strong, though they keep it rather safe. Tom Hanks plays the executive editor, Ben Bradlee, and he magnificently conveys the feeling that he’s an old hand at his job. The same can be said regarding Bob Odenkirk’s work, though he plays a more restrained, perceptive role. However, while there is nothing inherently wrong with their portrayals, neither actor is really stretching themselves in terms of their craft; we don’t necessarily see anything new here.

Meryl Streep’s acting has been described by some as “Oscar-baity.” Personally, I believe it’s because she is the only actor that is playing a character that is opposite to her type. In The Post, Katherine (Kay) Graham has only recently become the company’s president, a job that she inadvertently inherited due to the sudden passing of her husband. It was a role that was never intended for her, and as such, she is constantly walked over by the men that dominate the field of the publishing world. Soft and filled with self-doubt, this is not the Meryl Streep that we know.

If Tom Hanks’ Ben Bradlee is the driver of the plot, then Meryl Streep superbly represents the emotional heart of the story. Kay’s character arc is a subtle yet all-too-relatable one. It is a delight to watch this female character grow in confidence and shed the negative thoughts concerning whether she is capable of handling the power that comes with her job. It’s a subplot that’s as equally compelling as the main story, though it never screams for attention, and instead compliments the action by layering the narrative’s complexities.

Many people have described this film as being “timely.” Indeed, once Steven Spielberg read the script, he rushed The Post into production, despite still working on Ready Player One. This is a movie that will no doubt feel relevant to those who have grievances against the Trump Administration. Those audiences will develop a deeper connection with this film, however, the surrounding context of this piece will eventually be lost with time. While the core arguments in The Post will always be important, how relevant will its message be next year? What about in five years time? Ten?

As an Australian, and therefore reasonably outside of the loop regarding this movie’s contextual placement, The Post merely feels like yet another well-produced biopic that provides a fascinating history lesson and not much more. It’s not a game-changing movie. It doesn’t excite me as a film geek. Ironic considering the subject matter, in the cinema world, this film hasn’t taken any risks. If it does earn an Oscar nod, then it’ll go the same way as The Hurt Locker, Moneyball, Argo, and Captain Phillip; all great films, but they eventually recede to the back of one’s mind as the years go on.

As I mentioned at the beginning, The Post is a good film for what it is. If you’re in the mood for a biopic, with strong talent and juicy themes, along with an interest in this period of history, then, by all means, watch this movie. Yet it is not one I would recommend for everyone. With poor pacing and a dense narrative at the start, the entertainment value simply isn’t there for most people. It’s also not a visual extravaganza, and it’s hard to justify seeing this on the big screen as opposed to simply waiting for it to be available through other means. It’s a good film, but it’s not a must-see.

Categories
Drama Movies Reviews Sci-fi/Fantasy Thriller

Review: The Circle

Distributor: STX Entertainment & Europa Corp
Director: James Ponsoldt
Writers: James Ponsoldt & Dave Eggers
Stars: Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, John Boyega, Karen Gillan
Genre: Science-Fiction
Rating: PG-13
What if humanity had near omniscience? That’s the question this film asks. I postponed my research until after seeing the film, so I could go into the film with a blank slate. All I knew is what I’d seen from the trailers. After seeing the film, I researched that the author of the 2013 novel this film is based on, Dave Eggers, actually helped screen write this movie, so it’s very close to the original novel. I believe this film brings up many philosophical implications of humanity getting a hold of omniscience.

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: The only instance of violence is when a character dies by accidentally driving his truck off a bridge, but there is no blood or even showing of a body.
Language/Crude Humor: There is only one swear word in the entire movie and it’s when Tom Hanks says, “We’re so f***ed up,” near the end of the film.
Spiritual Content: N/A
Sexual Content: For a few seconds, Mae switches to one of the cameras in her parents’ bedroom and  accidentally witnesses them having sex. There is full nudity, though genitals and breasts are obscured.
Drug/Alcohol Reference: Mae along with many other characters drink at a party. Mae’s father has several beers.
Other Negative Content: Mae steals a kayak at one point.
Positive Content: Man shouldn’t be allowed to have omniscience. That’s my biggest take away from this movie. There’s a reason why God alone should be allowed to have it, and it’s because of man’s sinful nature. Man will find ways to take advantage of being able to see anything at any time they want.  If this film didn’t make that obvious, I don’t know what will.

Review

Mae Holland is a young temp who lives with her parents. When her friend from college lands her a job at the Circle, Mae joins a company who believes that privacy is stealing from other people. As the company grows more invasive in not just her life, but others she begins to question if the company’s ideals are as innocent and pure as they seem.
First off, this is not a guns-blazing action film. This is a psychological thriller. This film relies on underlying tension, character dynamics, and what the events mean to the characters’ future lives. This was a film made to have you really think about what this would be like if it actually happened. I found myself thinking about the film for hours last night after seeing it. I’m a very private person, so honestly the idea of everyone knowing what I’m doing all the time terrifies me.
However, I found myself empathizing with the main character Mae Holland. I know what it feels to have unfulfilled potential–and I believe part of the reason why she gets so wrapped up in the company is because she is embracing the attention, the feeling of being successful, and that potential seemingly being fulfilled. On the other hand, I could also relate to her grounded hesitations at first. When she speaks to a technician and the woman says casually, “Oh we implant trackers inside the bones of children so we can prevent kidnappings and rape.” Mae reacts with a surprised laugh. I felt the same way. The intentions are good, but does that justify the invasive nature of this procedure?
All of the actors did a great job in their acting. I kept thinking throughout the movie that they acted very real and genuine. Many of their reactions, dialogue, and things they did were very human. Emma Watson was great in her roll of Mae and many of her moments in the film had me forget that she was an actor and believe she truly was the character. Tom Hanks was great as the villain of the film, which was a role I was unused to him playing, but seeing him as a charismatic and manipulative character was a quite an interesting performance to view. The other role I’d like to point out in particular was the performance of the late Bill Paxton, who portrayed Mae’s father who had multiple sclerosis. His portrayal of the illness was very accurate and for moments I actually wondered if he had the disease. I also like how the director showed how Mae’s father’s illness impacted not just him but his entire family.
As I said at the beginning of this review, this film had me thinking for hours about the theme. There was so much take away. Some may see this as a movie that demonizes the internet. I disagree as the movie shows the many benefits of the internet as in how it connects people, but it also shows the downsides as in how much connection is too much? An element shown in the trailer is Mae “going transparent.” In the film, she starts wearing a camera constantly. This gains her many accolades, but when others think of doing this, they’re not so quick to give up their privacy, so they seem to say, “That’s great! As long as it’s not me.” This touches on the theme of hypocrisy.
I’d also like to point out the movie’s theme of valuing privacy. Sometimes we need privacy and I feel like in this extroverted Western culture we live in, privacy is dropping. We want to photograph and status update everything, but sometimes it’s okay to have moments that are only preserved in our minds, that are only between us or even just for ourselves. As an introvert, I need privacy. It’s how I recharge. The thought of always having someone watching me puts undue pressure on me, and it would drive me crazy. Introverts, it’s okay not to want to go to every party, every activity among your piers. Moments of serenity, solitude, and peace are not bad.
What I didn’t like about the film so much was the ending, and I’ll try to talk about this as best I can without spoiling it. I didn’t feel very satisfied. It felt a bit rushed and I felt like many loose ends weren’t tied up, especially between Mae, her parents, Ty, and Annie. I didn’t know if they were okay at the end of the film. I understand by how this was filmed so that it focused essentially on Mae and kept to her point of view, but I would have liked to have more closure on the side characters’ ends.
I enjoy films that make me think. I like pondering about the effects of different things on society. I believe the concept of this film is very interesting and worth a watch. If you want a good film that makes you think and provokes good discussion, definitely check out the Circle.