Fahrenheit 451 - 2018
Director(s): Ramin Bahrani
Writer(s): Ramin Bahrani (adaptation) / Amir Naderi (screenplay) / Ray Bardbury
Cinematography by: Kramer Morgenthau
Editor(s): Alexander Hall
Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Sofia Boutella, Michael Shannon, Cindy Katz and Dylan Taylor
I was on an airplane ride back to the States and I was scrolling through the movie selection and I perked-up when I saw that they had Fahrenheit 451. I had forgotten about this movie for some reason, despite it being one that I was really looking forward to. It has a vastly talented cast, led by the ever-charismatic Michael B. Jordan, a talented director (Bahrani) coming off a deeply underrated drama (99 Homes) and, sadly, it has an incredibly relevant source material - Ray Bradbury’s anti-intellectual dystopian novel of the same name. After staring at a tiny screen for 1hr and 41mins, baffled at what the end product was, I have to wonder if my subconscious had been trying to protect me by forgetting this movie.
The story is set in a distant future, in where a “fireman” named Montag (Jordan) is employed to start fires, not stop them. The government has declared all forms of art, including books, illegal (outside of a chosen scrubbed and altered few) and it’s the fireman’s job to hunt down any illegal graffiti (printed pages) being pushed to the masses. Along with destroying the books, they are in charge of hunting down the “Eels”, group of rebels trying to share the books with the public. The main theme of the movie is how governments or people in power suppress the masses by restricting their access to knowledge. Seen throughout history through as far back as 700 BC and as recently as during the Nazi regime, if you control the information you control the narrative. It’s relevant today thanks to the fake news narrative in the US and how governments like Russia and China censor the internet, so you can see why the source material was more than ripe for an adaptation.
The problem with the movie is that it never explores or expands on how important knowledge, ideas, novels or even a simple piece of music is to the human condition and how it helps us develop as a society. It simply hopes we see the difference from our reality and do the heavy lifting on our end. I never bought into the world and it felt almost comical. The rhetoric the fireman spouted, the songs they sang and the misinformation they said was plastic and hollow. I didn’t believe that THEY believed it and it was something they were just saying because they were told to do so, by the script. This makes the inner conflict of Montag as he starts to question his beliefs simply uninteresting.
Despite having a talented cast, especially the co-leads of Jordan and Shannon, the performances fell flat. It’s honestly not the fault of the cast as the script gives them zero to play with. The dialogues are monotone and repetitive. The character motivations are nonexistent, giving zero weight to the actions throughout the movie. Jordan, for the most part, is relegated to staring into the abyss with a face portraying either bewilderment or perplexment. Shannon’s character is the world’s saddest source for brainy quotes and Sofia Boutella is finally given a role in where she isn’t a killer or mummy and is lost in this mess of a movie.
Quick note: I did enjoy the cinematography and how they played with the color scheme. The use of the colors yellow, red, orange and blue was a nice touch and constant reminder of the fires that burn away the truth.
Fahrenheit 451 is just a collection of wasted opportunities, in the talents in front and behind the camera and especially of the source material. Maybe this story is better served as a mini-series. This would give time for natural chemistry between the leads to form, time to flesh out the character motivations and more importantly time to cement the main themes and the importance of accessible knowledge. But hey after I was done watching the movie, 1hr and 41mins of my flight had gone by and that’s why I love movies.
Fahrenheit 451 is currently streaming on HBO. Hard pass.
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