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Fahrenheit 451
2.5/5
dir Ramin Bahrani
prd David Coatsworth
scr Ramin Bahrani, Amir Naderi
with Michael B Jordan, Michael Shannon, Sofia Boutella, Lilly Singh, Khandi Alexander, Keir Dullea, Daniel Zolghadri, Martin Donovan, Dylan Taylor, Saad Siddiqui, Lynne Griffin, Cindy Katz
release US/UK 19.May.18
18/US HBO 1h40
Fahrenheit 451
Burn baby burn: Shannon and Jordan

boutella alexander donovan
CANNES FILM FEST
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Fahrenheit 451 A hyper-militarised version of the Ray Bradbury's classic novel, Ramin Bahrani's new film adaptation is bold and bombastic, packed with flashy touches that are somewhat distracting. Instead of setting this in the very near future (like The Handmaid's Tail), Bahrani includes constant technological flourishes that distance this world from our own. And because the story has been so fundamentally altered, the resonance feels off key.

In a greyed-out concrete future, books are forbidden and a team of firemen are charged with hunting down and burning them at 451ยบ F. Hotshot Cleveland fireman Guy Montag (Jordan) is the protege of the fearsome Captain Beatty (Shannon), tracking down members of the resistance and deleting their identities. But Guy is beginning to doubt the official history he's been told, especially when he meets a woman (Griffin) willing to die for her books. So he turns to informant Clarisse (Boutella) for answers. And as he digs deeper, Beatty begins to notice something is up.

A tough-guy machismo permeates the main characters, which feels a little out of place for a society in which the "Ministry" uses drugs and simplified media to limit thought to the most basic concepts. They have also wiped out diversity, so now only six languages are spoken on earth. These and other ideas feel eerily closer to reality today than they would have when Bradbury wrote his astonishing novel in 1953. But Bahrani makes this a distant dystopia, then adds a somewhat far-fetched rebel conspiracy in an attempt to ramp up suspense.

Jordan and Shannon are excellent at combining their characters' public swagger with thoughtful private introspection. Montag and Beatty are complex characters who grapple with the issues around them, and their reactions differ widely. Jordan's role is much more layered, and he brings texture to each scene. Meanwhile, Boutella adds a nice sense of mystery as the perhaps too-knowing Clarisse, but she remains somewhat underdeveloped, as do the rebels led by the always superb Alexander.

The story's ideas are pungent and meaningful, so there was no reason to unpick the novel's plot in order to turn this into a pushy, thuggish thriller. In the central performances, the movie still has power to provoke thought and dig out emotions, but it misses the chance to say something pointed about where we are right here and now. This approach also leaves some of the narrative twists and turns feeling random and pointless, most notably in the gloweringly harsh final act.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 20.May.18

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© 2018 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall

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