For many, Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 was required reading in high school. The book, released in 1953, shows a future where books are banned and are burned by firefighters. The book and now HBO film, starring Michael B. Jordan and Michael Shannon, paint a world where information and the people who seek it are quelled.
Jordan, coming off his stellar performance in Marvel’s Black Panther, stars as Guy Montag, a firefighter who’s spent most of his adult life burning books and capturing those who read them, as required by his boss, Captain Beatty, played by Shannon. In the film, Montag transforms from a man who is enthused about finding and punishing “criminals” who possess books into a man who becomes increasingly aware of how horrible the world is and how he has contributed to it.
Jordan does a fine job playing Montag, but the movie doesn’t allow him to shine like he has in Fruitvale Station, Creed or Black Panther, all directed by his frequent collaborator Ryan Coogler. Shannon does a better job playing Beatty, a character who doesn’t waiver from his convictions and is ruthless throughout the film, but like Jordan, he’s been in better films.
While the performances are not stellar, the visuals are sure to capture viewers’ attention. Director Ramin Bahrani creates a film that is dark, both figuratively and literally, as few scenes are set in daylight. The darkness works well for the movie’s plot. People with a desire to learn, to expand their minds, are hidden in the shadows. They’re fearful that they will be arrested or even killed for wanting to do something that people today take for granted.
Viewers won’t miss the parallels of the world that Bahrani created for the movie, one that Bradbury wrote about 65 years ago, with current events. The movie takes place in the not-so-distant future, and the technology in the film will be familiar to viewers. Characters interact with personal assistants, similar to Amazon’s Alexa. Also, there are smart TVs and huge projections beamed onto buildings showing people reacting in real time by using reaction emojis. Sound familiar?
Fahrenheit 451 is a decent adaptation of a book. Jordan and the supporting cast do an OK job with the content. Viewers will see a world that’s familiar and scary to them, but I think they would have more of a reaction by reading the vastly superior book.
Fahrenheit 451 premieres on May 19 at 8:00 p.m om HBO.
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Teddy is a multimedia journalist who serves as the culture and political writer for EBONY. His work has appeared in NBC's Owned and Operated stations, as well as DNAInfo, which covered local neighborhood news in New York City. He received his Masters in Journalism from the Craig Newmark School of Journalism at CUNY in 2017.