Fahrenheit 451 (2 stars)

Fahrenheit 451

Cannes 2018: Tepid adaptation of Ray Bradbury's incendiary novel, from Ramin Bahrani

The ideas from Ray Bradbury's prophetic dystopian novel, published in 1953, are updated for the internet age by writer-director Ramin Bahrani (99 Homes). Unfortunately, what could have been a provocative Mr Robot-style vision of the near-future – touching on hot topics regarding privacy, data manipulation, algorithms and censorship – plays out like a weak YA adventure. The action doesn't crackle, and character motivations and relationships are skimmed over, resulting in little emotional investment.

All physical books have been outlawed and the only available texts approved for online consumption are the Bible, Moby Dick and To the Lighthouse. A team of 'firemen' are charged with setting alight to any books and hard-drives belonging to those who fail to comply and these renegades, known as 'Eels', have their identities removed.

Michael B. Jordan stars as young fireman, Guy Montag, who has mindlessly been torching books for years but suddenly starts to question his career choice after a woman sets herself alight in protest at their tactics. Michael Shannon is his boss, Captain Beatty, who sees Montag as a son of sorts. A monitoring system watches them at home and work, though they can switch it off from time to time. Sofia Boutella turns up as a sorely underwritten rebel and love interest.

The striking world-building and initial introduction provides intriguing food for thought, with the firemen's lives projected out to the public for their support. Akin to a giant Facebook feed, people like, comment and rage against anyone who rallies against this totalitarian state. Montag attempts to stay on brand as a hero for the nation and there's a small amount of fun to be had with the way Jordan screams empty platitudes for the audience to lap up. Shannon, too, has a ball in his characteristically villainous role but, overall, this tepid film feels like a missed opportunity.

Screening as part of the Cannes Film Festival 2018. General release TBC.

Fahrenheit 451

  • 2 stars
  • 2018
  • US
  • 1h 40min
  • Directed by: Ramin Bahrani
  • Cast: Michael B Jordan, Michael Shannon, Sofia Boutella

Guy (Jordan) is a young ‘fireman’ whose job is to burn books that the authorities disapprove of, under the mentorship of his boss Captain Beatty (Shannon). This adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel plays out like a weak YA adventure, with flimsy and underwritten characters. A missed opportunity.