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
One thing that Writer-Director Ramin Bahrani and co-writer Amir Naderi had to deal with in their adaptation of Ray Bradbury's novel that the author didn't was the internet and a whole new world of digital communication. Neither did Francois Truffuat nor his co-writer Jean-Louis Richard in their acclaimed if problematic 1966 film. Of course, Bahrani could have done their version as a period piece, but, credit for not taking that way out of it. Unfortunately, this re-working has issues all its own.
The very bare bones of Bradbury's book are still there: In an unspecified future, books are banned and firemen now start fires by burning those illicit volumes. Montag (Michael B. Jordan) is our fireman protagonist and Captain Beatty (Michael Shannon) his superior. Montag witnesses the torching of an old woman's (Lynne Griffin) massive library, during which Montag secretly steals a book (Dostoevsky's Notes From Underground ) and begins to read. Eventually, he meets up with a free-thinking woman Clarisse (Sofia Boutella) and she encourages his interest in reading. Eventually, Montag discovers an underground group of literate citizens who are fighting to keep books alive (they are called 'Eels' here).
With that skeleton, Bahrani has fashioned a new version (this is a rare case where the term "re-imagining" actually applies). Unfortunately, he's created something that is more a futuristic Orwellian 1984 than a true FAHRENHEIT adaptation (there's even a citation of Winston Smith's vexing conundrum "2 + 2 = 5"; albeit the citation is via Dostoevsky not Orwell). In this future world, technology is still rampant, but the written word is used sparingly and replaced largely by pictures, symbols and emoji. In addition to books, it appears as if movies have also been banished, but, it's never clearly defined.
Jordan and Shannon are fine actors, but, as was the case with SHAPE OF WATER, Shannon's presence is so over-powering that his supporting role ends up dominating (and diminishing) the lead. Shannon is one of our finest actors, but he risks being caricatured as being the authority figure with a psychotic edge. Boutella and the supporting cast (including Khandi Alexander) are all fine, if largely shunted to the background. The production design and other tech credits are fine considering the cable budget with judicious choices in keeping the number of large locations to a minimum, although it must be said that the over-use of CGI flames borders on comical at times.
It's fine for Bahrani to have re-imagined Bradbury's story as a futuristic 1984. What's not forgivable is that it's so often poorly thought out. Montag's wife from the novel has been eliminated, replaced by cliched flashbacks to his childhood (a hoary device). There's an Alexa-like device called Yuxies which turns out to have Big-Brother-ish tendencies - or, does it? The movie doesn't clearly say. The movie retains Bradbury's Book People - but, then relegates their importance to the background in favor of a new construct called Omnis. More fundamentally, it seems as though the U.S. is the only country under this totalitarian rule. Other nations, including next-door neighbor Canada, are called in Orwellian-speak "dark countries". But, if most of the world is free, then is Omnis even necessary? The bird is a nice tip of the cap to Bradbury's Phoenix imagery, but, it's little recompense for the dearth of deep thought that went into creating this new Fahrenheit world.
Bahrani is a serious filmmaker (99 HOMES, GOODBYE SOLO) and he resists the urge to amp things up too aggressively, although there is an unnecessary chase or two towards the end. Sadly, that general temperance hasn't been matched by a logically-constructed visualization. It's a testament to the power of Bradbury's words that this FAHRENTHEIT 451 still effects you if even in a small way. But, more likely, you will be moved to simply just re-read his novel (and maybe, check out Truffuat's 1966 version which, flaws and all, still has one of the most touching finales in cinema).
Review by gortx from the Internet Movie Database.