A perfect example of why a movie reviewer should avoid reading the book a movie is based on–if they can–because I probably would’ve enjoyed this film (about an omnipotent tech company) much more if I hadn’t read the book. It’s true that when you really, really love a book that no movie can really adapt that personal feeling you get when reading it, but “The Circle” movie makes several odd decisions that are kind-of like it wasn’t even trying, despite the screenplay being “co-written” by the book’s author Dave Eggers. [Of course, Hollywood is big on giving author’s a screenplay credit if it provides cover for severely changing the book, especially the ending, as is the case here.]
What Works: Emma Watson is a fine choice as the lead May (although the movie’s script should’ve stayed closer to her soulless instincts in the underrated “The Bling Ring”), the recently-deceased Bill Paxton adds extra resonance as her father, and even when I was reading the book, I actually did imagine Tom Hanks as the tech company’s transparency-obsessed head Eamon Bailey and it was a minor stroke of genius to cast him in his first quasi-antagonistic role since “The Ladykillers”…
What Doesn’t: But the problem is that in the book’s version, Eamon isn’t really a bad guy in the conventional sense that he knows he’s a bad guy. The movie’s horrible cop-out of an ending which is radically different than the book’s shows Eamon has a shadier side than his book counterpart, who is oblivious to the harm he’s truly doing which ultimately makes him scarier. Also, May’s overall arc is cheapened dramatically by the time the credits roll, and the tech corp. in the book is much scarier than the one presented in the movie. Concepts like neighborhood segregation (in the name of “safety”) and implanting children with tracking devices are nightmarish in the book but either not mentioned at all in the movie or played as a joke concept that’s briefly mentioned. Even more, the book’s tone ranks alongside “1984” or especially “A Brave New World” as showing how our all-work, all-the-time contractor “dream” economy mimics those classic works as fascism that people are choosing of their own free will.
What I Would Have Done Differently: Kept the book’s ending, kept some of the book’s more frightening concepts, stayed truer to the tone, and perhaps asked the usually-great Karen Gillan to stick to a consistent accent as a lot of her dialogue is indecipherable.