Unsettling antiliteracy dystopia in 'Fahrenheit 451'.
A timely adaptation of the Ray Bradbury novel, Ramin Bahrani's HBO film 'Fahrenheit 451' explores a dark alternate reality where books are outlawed and burned by unquestioning enforcers called, of all things, 'firemen.'
These firemen, armed with flamethrowers, destroy the printed copies that are being kept by supposedly subversive readers, who are dubbed 'Eels' by the totalitarian government. These public burnings are streamed live and praised by spectators.
One fireman, Guy Montag (Michael B. Jordan), is a devout believer in the government's cause, routinely obliterating books that he finds. He is also being idolized by countless 'fans' who follow his mandated work. But a vague childhood memory keeps coming back to haunt him, so he starts questioning his loyalty to his unflinching mentor, Captain Beatty (Michael Shannon).
An informant, Clarisse (Sofia Boutella), leads the firemen to an elderly woman with a secret library, but the mission almost immediately goes awry, rattling Montag and making him seek information that isn't fed to him by his superiors.
'Fahrenheit 451's' tech-heavy, antiliteracy dystopia revels in the revision of history, supplanting truth with wrong details, known in our time as 'alternative facts' or even 'symbolism.' Disinformation and a concerted anti-intellectual movement have led to a more docile, subjugated citizenry-it's frighteningly relevant, mirroring real tactics in an increasingly topsy-turvy world.
Shannon and Jordan share a believable, but predictably doomed rapport in cookie-cutter roles-the former does well as yet another extremely unlikable baddie, while the latter makes his antihero sympathetic.
The adaptation, streaming on HBO Go, could've benefited more from a tighter script and elaborate visuals. The government broadcasts look like a hybrid of imagery from 'Hackers' and a slew of present-day social-media sites.
The film clearly establishes what an utterly manipulated society might look like, its members happy with what they're consuming, but never truly knowing real freedom. It's dispiriting, but also especially unsettling for depicting the consequences of unheeded warnings.