Let me come right out and say it: this movie is bad. It’s not horrendous, but it is bad. A few things come to mind from the film that are at best interesting, but that is all. If you want a quick suggestion and thin slice, skip this film and find something better on HBO (maybe find the original by famed new-wave French director, François Truffaut).
As I am sure you know this movie is adapted from the acclaimed, now classic Ray Bradbury book with the same name. A society where the fire department doesn’t put out fires but starts them by way of burning books is at the center of this film. And at the center of the fire department is Michael B. Jordan (Black Panther) & Michael Shannon (The Shape of Water). When you combine those two with Ramin Bahrani who brought us independent films like Man Push Cart, Chop Shop & 99 Homes (which were all at least B rated movies), you would expect something of the like. We received anything but! All that promise, and no resolve. It just hurts… actually just now writing about the film and thinking about its failures demoted the score from a C to a C-. Keep it up, I can go lower.
Let’s start with Jordan… after banging around the Wakanda countryside Jordan takes a step into a futuristic Cleveland as a fireman where the city seems to live and die by the fire department. The nice Cleavelandites essentially seem to roam around just waiting for an update from the Fire Department (some sort of SnapChat that is displayed on big TVs around the city), at which point the crowd jeers as books are burned and the book lovers get “erased” for a certain number of years. We are never meant to understand what it means to be erased because you can still walk around and have an apartment and collect more paraphernalia. Jordan does decent towards the beginning of the film but as it progresses he become less believable. This may be a script issue, but nevertheless you never believe that Jordan is actually starting to question this whole book-burning thing. He has been brainwashed for 16 years, his only father-figure being a crazed book-burning fanatic (Shannon) and he now starts to question it all?
Speaking of Shannon, the Chief and head honcho at the fire department, what happened to him in this role? Darren Franich correctly notices every time he talks it’s like he is giving a speech. At first you’re thinking, “oh, this guy really has a lot of points/lessons he is going to prove,” but then, very quickly I might add, it gets very old and cheesy.
There is much more I could say about the film but honestly it is not worth my time. Critics all agree on this one that it is very bad, but not only that, most critics agree that this should have been a great movie. I do not think the 32% on RT (4.9/10 average) is reflective of the movie (probably should be closer to 50%), but that 32% reflects some anger and disappointment. Darren Franich of Entertainment Weekly can close this one out:
Jordan’s reduced to carrying a flamethrower while everyone else says big important things. The dialogue sounds tin, near-parodic. “Next time I tell you to follow someone,” Shannon screams at an underling, “You crawl into their a–hole, you hear me?” Fahrenheit 451 has it heart in the right place, but its head sure crawled up somewhere.