Fahrenheit 451 will air May 19th on HBO.
Ray Bradbury’s classic dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451, got a modern-day makeover courtesy of HBO. The film, starring Black Panther’s Michael B. Jordan and Man of Steel’s Michael Shannon, focuses on a world where books are against the law and firemen create the fires, instead of putting them out. Knowledge is against the way of this world and anyone that dares defy the law is “deleted”. While Bradbury wrote his novel in 1953, HBO and director Ramin Bahrani infused modern day technology into the story, and the result was a hybrid of Blade Runner: 2049 and Black Mirror.
Now, I would have loved to say that the movie was amazing and everything fans of the book could have asked for in the reinterpretation of the story. But, alas, this is not the case. The overall plot goes from zero to sixty real quick and barely provides any time for character and story development. Jordan plays the character of Guy Montag, a fireman of the 451 brigade, assuring that the world is devoid of books (or as they refer to them, “graffiti”). Over time, Jordan’s character has an epiphany that he doesn’t want this life–even though it’s the only one he’s ever known. His job as a “fireman” is to rid the world of any knowledge or the ability to ever achieve intellect and intelligence. However, fuzzy flashbacks to his childhood remind him that his father (who was also a fireman) once harbored books in his possession, and they were burnt to a crisp in front of him.
The manner in which Jordan’s character does a complete 180 feels extremely rushed and as the audience, you don’t have enough time to process why or what really happened. Within an hour and a half, we have to understand the messed up world they are presenting, understand the nuances of their system, somehow connect with the character’s plight, and then also stomach the ending. The effort is there, and there are parts that do shine, notably Shannon and Jordan’s performance. But even they can’t save the fire that crumbles Fahrenheit 451 from within. I am fairly disappointed because this was a novel I really enjoyed reading as a middle-schooler and knowing the cast that was involved in it had me super excited about checking it out.
But like I said, it wasn’t all bad. The premise was there, the story was there, and an amazing cast was there to execute it all. I do think, however, this would have been better as a mini-series, rather than a 100-minute movie. Because there was so much to unpack there and so much potential, it would have been much more enjoyable spread out over a few hours. I wanted to know more about Jordan’s character and his conflicted past and I wanted to understand how society became the way we saw it. There are also eye drops that everyone uses that somehow connect to their memories and an Alexa type device that watches their every move. Not to mention, there are two groups of people present–eels and natives. We don’t really know or understand who is who, or what differentiates them other than a resistance group that is using technology to spread knowledge. And we don’t learn much at all about Shannon’s character, who plays Captain Beatty, and just have to accept that his quirks are a result of the truth he believes in. While those who may have read the novel could probably make sense of what was going on, those who haven’t may find themselves scratching their head over the fast-paced nature of it all.
There is a lot of heart missing in the story, and it just didn’t come across as amazing as it could have, given the cast and crew that was behind it. However, I will commend the film for giving it a shot and giving us glimpses of what could have been in the moments that did shine. And most importantly, a majority of us will watch anything with Michael B. Jordan, right?
I give Fahrenheit 451 a C-.
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