Guy Montag (Michael B. Jordan) and his mentor Captain Beatty (Michael Shannon) are firemen. They hunt down and burn books for the totalitarian government in this re-adaptation of the classic distopian novel by Ray Bradbury. When Guy is confronted by one woman's extreme sacrifice for the sake of her books, and another woman's willingness to philosophize with him about the need for art, he is faced with a difficult decision. Should he continue burning books for the sake of people's happiness or ensure that the government will fall, knowing that giving choice to people will bring violence.
Before the Movie
I read Fahrenheit 451 in middle school. It's been a long time. I remember the high concept for it but when it comes to the characters and motivations, I remember very little. It's not even in my top 5 Bradbury books, so this isn't a dear property to me.
When I first heard they were doing a remake of this property I was actually pretty excited for it. The old 1966 version by Truffaut has not aged well and even film buffs, often have never seen it. With the rise in Information Technology and instantaneous communication, I was interested to see how these subjects would be tackled in a story that relies on an outdated form of communication as its central plot device.
With those being my questions and expectations going in, I couldn't help but be disappointed in how the movie turned out. In a strange way, the movie is both too long and too short, too small in scope and too large.
The book Fahrenheit 451 is fairly short, a bit over 100 pages. As a result it is very economical. This should be a screen writer's playground but it turns out that, in my opinion, this movie was destined to fail from the green light.
At the heart of the story is one man's discovery of books and what wonders they hold. As he starts seeking to know more and more of them, he finds he must leave his job and run off to a community that devotes themselves to literature in secret.
There are only a few characters, with deep conversations but there is not a lot of attention paid to other people at the fire department, other aspects of society and how they have been affected, or how other people in the society live. This is fine, in a nice tight movie, or a 45 minute short film. It's also fine in a 2 1/2 hour epic or a limited run series.
Where this is not ok, is in a 1 hour 45 minute easily digestable film. You can really feel that when they were writing this movie they felt like they needed to comment on modern society and show what a large societal change has occured but that they didn't have the time or budget to comment on them effectively or build effective visual motifs to explore these subjects in anything resembling a satisfying way.
This film has a strange anemic feel. There are no pedestrians in the streets. When people address the society at large, they simply talk out in the open but no one is listening. Their images are just projected onto building where, I guess people are watching?
It's like they were running out of money and just thought, what is the cheapest way we can do this without feeling too much like a CBS made for TV movie, but totally failed to escape that feel.
If they wanted to comment on the larger ideas of the society presented in the book they really needed to make this a series like "Handmaid's Tale" on Hulu or "Man in the High Castle," on Amazon.
Not All Bad News
That isn't to say that there aren't a few interesting things going on in this movie. They just aren't explored enough.
The film tries to comment on what happens when a society begins censoring all writing, redacting and rewriting classic works for content, using AI writers. It doen't shy away from casting stones and both sides of that issue either.
We learn that liberals banning "Nigger Jim" from Huckleberry Finn, are followed by people wanting references to other racial stereotypes, even white ones, redacted from literature were the early leaders of this extreme censorship.On the other side, the conservatives start banning "alternate versions" of history as fake-fiction meant to stir people up to violence and dissatisfaction with their lives.
Many of the ideas presented in this movie are powerful ideas about choice and happiness and what we truly value as a society or individuals. This movie just doesn't explore them in a very interesting way.
We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Negative Review
Ok. I know I've been tearing on this movie for a minute, but the acting. The acting is really great. The Michael's are on fire in this film. I could watch them debate all day, and there are some great lines that would be classic quotes if they were in a decent film instead of this one. If you don't care about the plot as much but just want to see some good performances, you won't be disappointed here.
Obviously, this wan't my cup of tea. If I'm totally honest, I feel like you should just read the book. It won't take you much longer to read than to watch the movie and you'll actually enjoy it a million times more.
The movie is almost like the version of all these ideas that you might find in a culture that can;t handle actually thinking about big ideas in any sort of serious way. hmmmm.
This movie is a symptom of a disease that is spreading lately, through the cinematic world. If you would like to read more about that, check back on Friday, May 25 for an article on that trend.
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