(This review originally appeared at Reel Film News on April 13, 2013.)
When you view a movie that is unlike anything you’ve seen before, how should it be critiqued? Do you focus more on the film’s message, the script, the acting, or the techniques used? This is my dilemma with Silver Circle, a computer-animated film by Pasha Roberts. And when I say “computer-animated,” I don’t mean the cutesy, semi-realistic kind of computer animation that has made Pixar and DreamWorks Animation films so memorable; I mean the kind of animation you see in modern video games like Grand Theft Auto or Red Dead Redemption. I’m talking about the herky-jerky, dead-eyed, yet overly-smooth animation that attempts to make things look realistic, yet only highlight the technique’s shortcomings. And having a film full of it doesn’t make it any better.
Of course, it’s a good way to show a relatively modern, dystopian future. However, it’s not enough of a change from our current surroundings, so my guess is that the animation is used to show off locations and shots that were otherwise unavailable or unfeasible to the filmmakers. Set in a not-too-futuristic 2019, Silver Circle focuses on exaggerated government greed and how it affects the regular populace, with inflation skyrocketing to outrageous proportions. Imagine a future where you pay $90 for a beer at happy hour, or $152 for a gallon of gas; prices change at the drop of a hat on digital price boards that look lifted straight out of Andrew Niccol’s In Time; and the Federal Reserve seems to be the government agency to blame for everything.
A housing riot and a case of arson kick off a series of events in which Department of Housing Stability investigator Jay Nelson (De’lon Grant) eventually finds himself enmeshed, and if you’ve seen Kurt Wimmer’s Equilibrium, you’ll notice a very similar track to both stories. Government agent is sent to investigate crime, winds up on the flip side of the coin working against his employers, and falling for a woman who opens his eyes to the injustice and corruption. The story’s a little rote, but it’s enough to get the job done.
However, what doesn’t save this movie is the amateurish blend of video game animation and badly-timed voice acting. Director Pasha Roberts has his cast overdramatize their voice performances in order to make up for their non-expressive avatars, and it starts to twang your nerves after a little while. What should be a straightforward story about governmental greed and the ragtag bunch that tries to fight back winds up being a very heavy-handed sermon on how we should hate the Fed. The motion capture animation does nothing to enhance anyone’s voice performances, with almost every character showing a blank, emotionless expression; the intensity of the spoken words just doesn’t match the looks on their faces, and it feels a little lazy. Even though the effort and the innovation deserve due plaudits, the execution negates it; between Steven Schwartz’s trite script (think of every staple of the “little guys rise up against The Man” genre, and you’ll find it here), the computer animation, and the overly melodramatic voice acting, the intention and the message of Silver Circle gets lost easily in a sea of libertarian, wrongheaded rhetoric. If it weren’t trying to take itself so seriously, it could fit in with other call-to-action films like V for Vendetta or the aforementioned Equilibrium. However, Silver Circle winds up drowning in its own fearmongering.