The 2018 version of Fahrenheit 451, based on the famous novel by science fiction author Ray Bradbury, comes to us courtesy of HBO Films, who–like Netflix and Hulu and other premium platforms–continues to invest in feature-length films to attract customers to its programming. Set in a dystopian America where books are illegal and firemen act as a police force who burn books, Fahrenheit 451 tells a story of censorship, control, and intimidation. Given the current political climate in the United States–and in other places of the world where conservatives have gained power–it is a timely tale of the slippery slope we are on when the government removes our freedoms.
The 451 referred to is the actual degree that book paper burns, hence the title Fahrenheit 451.
What makes this review different is that I haven’t read the book, nor did I look up differences between the book and the film. With that confession off my chest, I can now say, with all honesty, Fahrenheit 451 is a hot mess that feels like an hour and a half direct cut of a TV series. I had high hopes for this film purely based on the cast alone.
Michael B. Jordan recently starred in Black Panther, one of his best roles yet, and Michael Shannon was recently nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in The Shape of Water. What makes things even more exciting is that this is the first time both Michaels star in a film together. How can you not be excited about the chance to see that on screen, which leads to the heartbreak; both actors are a letdown. Yes, the script wasn’t the best, but the actors didn’t help. Jordan was too inconsistent with his delivery of lines, varying from shouting like a WWE wrestler to having no presence at all. He was almost comical at the start of the film. Shannon might sell you with his facial expressions but his body movement is stiff like a deer in the headlights. I was left thinking this film could have saved on cost and hired two lesser known actors and still obtained the same effect.
The plot is based on a great concept but is unfortunately executed poorly. We are only shown a few negatives of what happens if you burn books, and all of those negatives involve the firemen beating you down. The film doesn’t make you care about the characters despite their tragic past. The reason why is that everything feels rushed, there isn’t enough development nor enough time for us to feel the impact of an emotional scene before we are rushed to the next key event. Even the best dialog is book quotes and one-off statements.
Despite everything listed above, those are minor offenses compared to the ending of the film. I was thinking “ok this is on par with most young adult novel adaptions with decent visuals.” Hell, there was even a poorly connected love interest subplot, but boom hello terrible ending. After everything the film puts you through, you are left with nothing to reward your time. The characters and the story you paid attention to were just props to deliver you to a message that didn’t need telling. I wonder if the director finished filming that scene and thought he made something great.
Honestly, if the film focused more on the complex ideas behind why burning books is a terrible idea instead of showing us the cruelty of firemen we would have had something to talk about. In the meantime, I am still rooting for another film starring Shannon and Jordan.