Our troubles begin in this film with our lead, Guy Montag (played by "Jules and Jim" lead, Oskar Werner), who obviously hated working for Truffaut and this project. Despite the rumor that the two clashed at every opportunity, Werner gave one of the worst performances seen for a long time. When Truffaut couldn't get Terrance Stamp for his first choice, the lackluster Werner stepped in, and the downfall of this film began. Werner gave nothing for audiences to attach themselves to. There was no emotion, no big moment of empathy, no excitement. Werner went from one scene to the next, allowing his sleepy eyes to provide us with just enough to cope with the hour and a half running time. He was horrible as a "Fireman", and even less convincing as a man with a sudden passion for the written word. There were moments when laughter was more suitable than viable emotion. This is supposed to be a tense film, a confusing film, a film where the emotion surrounding books becomes a greater asset than the material objects that Montag possessed. Alas, this wasn't the case. With the supposed anger surrounding our lead and director, only the lessons of Styrofoam and cardboard were used. Thankfully, there was Julie Christie mixed within the story to heighten the side bits. Feeling a bit Brunel-ian, Christie was used as two characters in this film, providing an opportunity for Truffaut to demonstrate a particular emotion with books and without them. While Christie wasn't Oscar-worthy, she did allow for an appealing appetizer to the dismal main course (Werner). She and Cyril Cusack (The Captain), anointed with the task of keeping the film together, managed to save this film from utter disappointment to sheer mediocrity.
What makes "Fahrenheit 451" an interesting film to self-explode, is not only the odd direction by Truffaut, but the powerful camera work by one Nicolas Roeg (the man who later gave us "The Man Who Fell To Earth"). All of the colors, the shots as they were filmed, and the choices of camera placement were, possibly, the second only greatest moment of this film. I credit Roeg for giving us the unsettling feel of this film. The contrast from the bold colors of red in the community with the bland colors of inside Montag's home (and elsewhere) forced the setting upon us in a good way. As Truffaut and Werner were arguing with each other, Roeg was creating a film – and it is obvious as the visuals of this film looked creative, but everything else came nowhere close.
Finally, without giving away the ending, one has to admit that the ending to this film was Truffaut finally finding his way again. Suddenly, when Montag found his real "home", it became obvious that Truffaut found his comfort zone. He understood this film, and the ending wrapped up brilliantly. The direction, the voice, the visuals – they all seemed to come together in a way that shocked even myself. If only the rest of the film had been this way what a surprising film this would have been.
Overall, I believe this film, if done correctly, could be the first science fiction film ever to win an Oscar for best film. The themes are universal and the looming future is closer than we think. Yet, Truffaut could not handle this. He and Werner's arguing created a difficult mess of mixed emotions and sub-par casting. Roeg's scenes were brilliant, but couldn't save this sinking ship. "Fahrenheit 451" had potential, but failed on nearly every level. If you choose to view this film, check out the final scene in which Truffaut finally understands Bradbury's work. Why did it take so long to discover the true meaning of the written page? Urg.
Grade: ** out of ***** (two stars for Roeg and Christie ONLY)