Summary: Based on the classic Ray Bradbury novel, Guy Montag (Michael B. Jordan) is a book-burning enthusiast until he is suddenly asked why.
Just kidding, my feelings about this aren’t THAT strong. It’s been a minute since I read the original novel and I’ve never seen the 1966 version, so I can’t say it’s less or more faithful or “evolves” the source material in any way, so this is a movie for movies’ sake. Granted, I had somewhat high hopes for this based on some amazing trailers and billboards and the names “Michael B. Jordan” and “Michael Shannon,” but it’s fine. I don’t think you need to see this movie. You could watch Equilibrium, get the same thoughts by the end, and probably get some sort of entertainment (gun kata, bad dialogue, Taye Diggs) out of it.
For those who didn’t read the novel, here’s Fahren-lite 451: Guy Montag is a fireman- except in this world, a fireman is someone who burns books, art, music (classified as “contraband”) and not someone who saves lives. In this version, Montag is a star on social media, really racking up those YouTube views and getting all those likes. He then begins to question what he’s doing, realizes it’s wrong and joins the rebellion. It’s a work that is rich for adaptation, a classic novel which questions the direction our society is heading in, technology, the existence of human communication, and what it means to be alive.
The good news is, Shannon doesn’t disappoint. The movie looks nice, there is some fat trimming which narratively makes sense, and the imagery of with the books really works. There’s a nice incorporation of technology from today, though I wouldn’t say the predicted future stuff is as revolutionary or as unexpected as earbuds were in the original work- if anything, it’s like present technology just got stylized, meaning the emojis are different colors and Alexa got a new name.
For a work whose themes and context are so heavy… Fahrenheit 451 feels kind of light. And Jordan doesn’t quite have anything meaty to do for about an hour. The character of Guy Montag is really flat and there’s not so much of an internalization process- not saying that Jordan isn’t a talented actor because he absolutely has proven himself- but there’s really nothing for him to do here. There’s not enough… journey for him to be on. And the journey we do get highlights weird parts that don’t seem very consequential so the emotional beats and internalized moments don’t resonate quite as much.
Let’s bring up an example. Clarisse (Sofia Boutella) is a snitch, who feeds Montag and his boss Captain Beatty (Shannon) information on “Eels,” people who hide contraband. She casually asks Montag something along the lines of “Do you ever wonder why you do what you do?” and we can tell this is supposed to set Montag off on some journey, questioning the system he’s a part of, his father figure, his past, and so on. This part is fine. Montag then steals a book during his next burn session.
… only to add it to a bunch of other contraband he’s already stolen. So.. he’s already… been…. Questioning? What happened? Where did he get this other stuff from? When did the urge actually begin? Is Clarisse then an inconsequential character? It’s kind of weird. Just weird decisions that don’t show linearity for Jordan to evolve as a character.
Like I said before, Montag is supposed to realize he’s wrong about everything- his work, his beliefs, his upbringing- and this all happens very fast in the movie. The moments are nothing more than plot points, rather than slow moments to let Jordan do his work. It’s like they were more interested in the world it was set in rather than the character and his development. Don’t get me wrong, I think world building is great and wonderful- but there does have to be a reason for it and in this case, the reason behind it is to feel suppressed and aloof and to have that comfort ripped away. It doesn’t feel like this at all. It’s great in the sense that it feels familiar and not too far away from the life and technology we have now down to each neon blue emoji, but Montag’s world isn’t shattered nearly enough. I don’t think the director (Ramin Bahrani) really understood the source material as much as he should have.
And he also doesn’t have much to say. Where there should be a running commentary on the allegory and metaphors that come up, it’s kind of just there to provide a, “Hey! We have Facebook likes too!” There’s nothing polarizing about it- it just looks like there are those who read and those who don’t, those who don’t have accounts (and from the looks of it, not even the internet) and those who do.
I think the movie could have benefitted from a stronger presentation of themes and less plot. It is a very simple story at the core and it really doesn’t need a lot of dialogue, but a lot of moments. With a run time of an hour and forty minutes, we’re really not given that.
Oh no, did I just watch another Dark Tower!?