Fahrenheit 451 Review
Equilibrium was more fun
The HBO Original Movie adaptation of Ray Bradbury's classic 1953 novel Fahrenheit 451 is a slick dystopian sci-fi with a strong lead cast.Originally written to address the McCarthy era of state-based censorship, the story tells of an unspecific future where books are outlawed and 'firefighters' track and burn them.
The film follows enthusiastic young firefighter Guy Montag (Michael B. Jordan - Black Panther, Creed) and his determined superior, Captain Beatty (Michael Shannon - Midnight Special, Man of Steel), who are sent on missions to find and eradicate any books left on the planet, and publicly outcast those who read them.
It needed more work to graduate into a fully-fledged cinema event.
Of course Montag starts to show his doubt, despite Beatty's passion for the job, struggling with rumours about a past where firemen didn't start fires - they put them out; and with the notion that all these books were outlawed to stop people from having different opinions (believed to be the cause behind a second Civil War).
Director Ramin Barhani (who previously worked with Shannon on 99 Homes), crafts a slick looking piece of dystopian sci-fi which has more than a hint of Blade Runner 2049 about it, as the streets are lit by huge screens (almost all focussed on Government propaganda like the See Something, Say Something), and homes are equipped with Alexi-like AI that monitors your actions and behaviour (although 'Go Dark' appears to be a rather easy command to override this).
Slick as it may be, the production - which feels like it was once intended for the Big Screen, then perhaps as a pilot for a TV series, and has landed somewhere in between - doesn't quite have the time in its 97 minute duration to get to the bottom of the themes it would like to traffic in.
Whilst the 'whys' are hinted at across the piece, Fahrenheit 451 needs more time looking beneath the surface of this dystopian state, to understand how society got to a stage of such wilful ignorance. Instead the basic premise, stylishly realised, soon gives way to a familiar tale of dissent and self-doubt.
The production doesn't quite have the time in its 97 minute duration to get to the bottom of the themes it would like to traffic in.
Ironically, despite only very loosely trading in the same themes and premise, the Christian Bale action film Equilibrium offered a far more viscerally entertaining 'interpretation' of this kind of subject (perhaps because it launched the underrated concept of gun-fu), whilst Fahrenheit 451 keeps things ostensibly far more faithful to the novel but doesn't really scratch any deeper beneath the surface.
A game cast make all the difference, with Jordan a strong presence and Shannon still stealing every damn scene he's in, whilst there's solid support from Sofia Boutella (Atomic Blonde, The Mummy) and Martin Donovan (Ant-Man, Inherent Vice).
Ultimately it's hard to see how similar dystopian futures haven't been better addressed by action-based tech sci-fi flicks like Minority Report or Equilibrium, or by more small-scale enterprises that take their time to develop the background to this state of society (The Handmaid's Tale), with Fahrenheit 451 struggling to deliver the entertainment strengths of the former, or the thoughtful impact of the latter.
Haphazardly edited - with what feels like huge swathes of narrative stripped out as montage-style scenes of raids and book-burning are blended into soundbites of plot development - and struggling to quite coalesce into a tension-building exploration of self-realisation, Fahrenheit 451 is a slick and well-made production, but you can see why it has landed as an HBO original movie as it needed more work to graduate into a fully-fledged cinema event (much like Sky's Anon), and needed the scope of a full mini-series if it wanted to really address the themes it touches upon.
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