Review: Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451
7 10

PLOT: Directed by Ramin Bahrani from a screenplay by Ramin Bahrani & Amir Naderi, the drama is based on Ray Bradbury’s classic novel of the same name, depicting an alternate tomorrow in which media is an opiate, facts and history are rewritten, and “firemen” burn books. 

When originally published in 1953, Ray Bradbury's dystopian novel predicted a future where books would be banned and knowledge would be controlled by an all powerful government. Coupled with George Orwell's 1984, FAHRENHEIT 451 became a staple of the American public school system and widely regarded as one of the most important novels of all time. Since it's publication, FAHRENHEIT 451 has been adapted for the big screen only once, by Francois Truffaut in 1966. With the world engaged in a politically tumultuous time and social media taking on a control heretefore unknown, it is the perfect time for Bradbury's novel to be adapted once again. HBO and director Ramin Bahrani assembled a top notch cast for their new version of FAHRENHEIT 451, but it unfortunately doesn't work as well as it should.

In this era of Donald Trump and fake news, FAHRENHEIT 451 has been updated to reflect the latest politics across the globe. From the outset, the film focuses more on a future controlled by social media and even makes references to the downfall of society coming when people stopped reading anything more than curated headlines. There is also a moment where Guy Montag (Michael B. Jordan) utters a line modeled after Trump's "Make America Great Again" campaign slogan. At times, the movie feels incredibly on the nose which may turn off some viewers hoping for a more faithful adaptation of the source material. Through the film's 100 minute run time, it almost felt more like a feature length episode of Black Mirror rather than a standalone feature film.

Ramin Bahrani, whose excellent film 99 HOMES was a timely look at the economic crisis in America, evokes excellent performances from the cast here, especially leads Jordan and Michael Shannon. Shannon portrays Captain Beatty, Montag's superior, who himself struggles with the medicated control of the government and sees the waning allegiance of his protege. Sofia Boutella portrays Clarisse, a young "eel" who has been shunned by society for her love of books. She helps guide Montag to the underground of rebels who strive to maintain the entirety of literature before it can all be burned. Each of the leads have standout scenes through the film, but they just aren't able to overcome the pacing issues that plague the movie.

There are also the questions of changes made to the source material which may rub some viewers the wrong way. Bradbury's novel was written at a time when the author feared that the growing popularity of television would herald the end of the written word. The change in this version of FAHRENHEIT 451 encompasses not just books but also art, film, and music with the only three books allowed by the government being Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse, the Bible, and Herman Melville's Moby-Dick. Even writing is outlawed and is instead replaced by an Alexa-like device in everyone's home called Yuxie which also allows people to monitor the news and upvote and like what they see. People speak the way they would tweet or post on Facebook, taking you out of the realism that the novel strove for to instill fear in the reader. Instead of what could happen, these changes to FAHRENHEIT 451 water down the narrative and make it feel like nothing more than science fiction.

There is also a major change to the final act which sets the film version of FAHRENHEIT 451 completely apart from the novel. I won't spoil it here, but instead of making the film about humanity joining together, the film instead puts the entirety of the burden on a single thing instead of a group of people. In some ways, this change reminded me of CHILDREN OF MEN, but it also comes across as completely unnecessary as the original ending was fine. There are numerous excisions from the novel as well, including entire characters, subplots, and even the beloved mechanical hound which I would have loved to see created with modern special effects. The finished film ends up stuck as a thriller without thrills or an action movie without much action.

FAHRENHEIT 451 definitely still had very topical and important themes on displays which automatically makes this version a must watch for a generation who have not read the book nor seen the 1966 film. But, despite excellent turns by Michael B. Jordan and Michael Shannon, you would probably be better off watching the far more entertaining action film EQUILIBRIUM which borrows heavily from Bradbury's novel. With high production values, FAHRENHEIT 451 looks good enough to have been a big screen release but just doesn't pack enough of a punch to warrant a trip to the theater.

FAHRENHEIT 451 premieres May 19th on HBO.

Source: JoBlo.com



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