Ray Bradbury’s iconoclastic 1953 novel has not been this relevant for a long time. Fahrenheit 451 was written as a defence of books and intellectualism against the growth of TV and other mindless entertainment like cinema, and as ignorance reigns across the globe it feels a perfect moment to adapt to the screen.
The irony of that transition aside, Ramin Bahrani and Amir Naderi take some necessary steps updating the novel for our present tastes. The book-burning remains a core image, but the near-future dystopia has been slipped in line with our contemporary lifestyles, pushing social networks and home AIs like Alexa to their logical ends. These are obvious ingredients for Bahrani’s fascist state, but their handling is clumsy and unimaginative, coming off like a rejected scrap from the Black Mirror writing room.
Bahrani sets up most of Fahrenheit 451’s fascist regime visually, with brutalist architecture, black leather outfits, and bold logos echoing countless repressive movements throughout history. He’s aided by some stellar work from cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau, flooding this neo-noir nightmare with a feeling of radioactive decay. These touches work in fits and starts, often feeling heavy-handed and simplistic, just like Bahrani and Naderi’s script.
They don’t do enough to create an interesting angle into this dystopia, instead dealing in fascism by numbers. We don’t get a sense of what has been lost between the present and this highly flammable future, but simply a series of formulaic internal conflicts as leads Montag (Michael B. Jordan) and Beatty (Michael Shannon) question their part in the regime. Jordan is decent, but Shannon is wasted as the snarling bad cop; he’s always far more interesting when asked to portray greater complexity.
Bahrani crafts a distinctive and tense narrative, but none of his editorial choices match the depth or power of the original book.
CAST: Michael B. Jordan, Michael Shannon, Sofia Boutella, Keir Dullea
DIRECTOR: Ramin Bahrani
WRITERS: Ramin Bahrani, Amir Naderi (screenplay), Ray Bradbury (novel)
SYNOPSIS: In a terrifying care-free future, a young man, Guy Montag, whose job as a fireman is to burn all books, questions his actions after meeting a young girl… and begins to rebel against society.