451 degrees Fahrenheit is the temperature at which paper self ignites. In this grim look at a totalitarian future, firemen have taken on a new duty of starting fires instead of putting them out (complete with flame throwers), specifically with the task of burning all books, as way of suppressing independent thought and action in the public. The film's story centers around a young fireman, Guy Montag, who finds himself questioning his job, even as he encounters an odd young woman, and learns about an underground of rebels who each memorize the entire contents of a book, so that they can preserve it even without the use of paper.
Directed by: Ramin Bahrani
. Starring: Michael B. Jordan
, Aaron Davis
, Cindy Katz
, Michael Shannon
, Mayko Nguyen
, Dylan Taylor
, Saad Siddiqui
, Katherine Cullen
, Edsson Morales
, Jordan Baker
, Nathanial Buzzanga-Silveira
, Charlotte Flint
, Luke Flint
. Music by: Antony Partos
, Matteo Zingales
In so many ways this movie strays far from a book that didn't need embellishment or change. It was all right there on the page. So, this movie, adapted from a novel about burning books, uses a script that burns the original text in effigy, with its writerdirector missing the irony all the while.
Of course, "Fahrenheit 451" is about more than just burning books. It is really about destroying all sorts of philosophies, artistic expression, free thinking, and sagacious wisdom. The film touches on that but creates a new narrative that has little to do with the lessons of the original story.
The opening starts well enough, with the classic pieces of literature and great art burning away and seemingly setting the tone for the message.
But what happened to the message? From here, the film goes into its own creation of ideas, none of them good. While the novel is set in no particular place, the film chooses Cleveland as the locale for these events. The firemen are heroes whose exploits are all over TV and social media. They practice a military-like brand of machismo and are practically the pro athletes of the future.
Changes from the novel are disastrous choices. While Guy is married to a despondent woman named Mildred in the book, here he is single, which removes one of the many sources of his confused allegiance and some necessary conflict for the story. In the novel Clarisse is a youthful, optimistic, free-thinking girl but in the film she is a gothic, post-college radical about ten years older. It's like taking Dorothy from the "Wizard of Oz" and transmorphing her into Patty Hearst. Clarisse is meant to bring some light into Guy's empty world but here she is turned into a potential lover and one of the reasons he strays from his job of burning books. The film's Clarisse is nowhere near as engaging or likable as the one in the book, despite being on the right side of the political divide.
The second greatest crime in this faulty adaptation is that the film is dull and protracted. While it has exciting and engaging visuals, the pace is slow and the events are dragged out, with little to no character development. And then there are the film's inventions, which border on the absurd. The society of people who memorize books have put their DNA into a bird that is supposed to...what? Fly out into the world and spread it's (and literature's) seed? Does this make sense to anyone?
Moreover, HBO was cheap and lazy with this production, using a very recognizable 2018 downtown Los Angeles as a substitute for futuristic Cleveland. This reminds me of the 1970s, when L.A.'s Bonaventure Hotel stood in as New Chicago for "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century." If they didn't want to spring for a special effects skyline, couldn't they have just used the real Cleveland? Or at least the skyline of another world city that is less recognizable to Americans like Helsinki or Johannesburg?
When I first heard Michael B. Jordan was cast as Guy Montag, I was delighted. I think he's an extraordinary actor and one need only revisit "Fruitvale Station" to see why. But not only do they put him to terrible use in this, I was really uncomfortable watching an African American actor playing a character who struggles to read, given the abhorrent track record our nation has with providing fair and equal education to minorities. Those scenes made an entirely different statement than the what the producers thought they were making.
Worst of all, this was not just a bore but a very dark one at that. It's never daytime, it's never sunny, and there's never any reason to believe people in this film's self-contained society would feel any reason to not join a revolt. There is no joy in this society, and the "bread & circus" of burning books hardly seems like enough to enthrall the inhabitants of this dystopia.
One of the flaws of the novel was its climax, the nuclear bomb destruction of the principal city by an unnamed enemy. To the reader it comes as a complete surprise and plays as a deus ex machina. Also, Bradbury wrote it just a few years after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and there was very little knowledge about nuclear fallout, so his characters go back into the city afterwards with the limited information of the 1950s. Nonetheless, this was a central point about the self-destruction of society, and an update of that idea could easily have been used here. It isn't and the film is the lesser for it.
As a fan of the novel, I am truly disappointed. Like so many others, I appreciate the Truffaut's 1966 film made in Great Britain with Julie Christie and Oskar Werner, but it always had a very British personality. I'll grant the story has a universal theme but I did want to see what an American production could do with this material.
Review by DaMarco-2 from the Internet Movie Database.