Michael B Jordan is on a roll. After Black Panther’s Erik Killmonger, Jordan is seen as fireman Guy Montag in Ramin Bahrani’s HBO film Fahrenheit 451. The film is based on the classic novel of the same name by Ray Bradbury. The movie stands on its two feet, but the inevitable comparisons to the book make it look like a poor cousin of the paperback.
The 1-hour-and-30-minute long film’s narrative finds it difficult to hold a candle to Bradbury’s book, but it does have its moments, its redeeming qualities and at the top of that list stands tall and proud, the very talented Michael B Jordan. The man has charisma and that quiet dignity about his performance in the film pulls you to him. It is thanks to largely his skills as an actor that the movie is much more engaging. Of course, there is also Michael Shannon, who had received quite the praise for his character of the evil Richard Strickland in the Academy Award-winning The Shape of Water. That Shannon is versatile is not headline-worthy, he has been a part of several well-received films such as 8 Mile, Nocturnal Animals and Revolutionary Road. But his Captain John Beatty in Fahrenheit 451 does not stand out.
Shannon’s Beatty is not menacing, he is neither oppressed by his desires nor is he outright evil. He comes across as a confused person caught in the system of things.
The screenplay doesn’t help the movie’s case as it plays around with the plot a bit, thus coming up with its own terms such as ‘The 9,’ a continuous broadcast passed off as media. There are also the terms ‘Eels’ and ‘Omnis,’ which were not present in the original. And then there are emojis, and a homebot called Yuxie who is a constant and menacing technological presence throughout the film.
If you have not read the book or have plans to read the book after watching the movie, well and good. Because you will not make the mistake of thinking that the book will be replicated on film. But if you have read the book and assume that it’s going to represent the beloved novel in the way you had hoped it would, the HBO film might surprise you.
Some people believe the movie should have been a full-fledged series, and maybe they are right. That way, Bahrani, who is otherwise an accomplished filmmaker, would have invested more time and energy into the project. And it sure does need that extra effort, but for a one-time watch, Fahrenheit 451 ticks more boxes than it doesn’t. It has the visuals, the one and only Jordan and finds a very enigmatic performer in Khandi Alexander’s Toni Morrison. Alexander as Morrison is at once composed and powerful. She radiates almost spiritual energy as she questions, debates and instructs Jordan’s character in a few crucial scenes. Unfortunately, her appearance is a brief one.