Worth A Look: 4%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 80%
2 reviews, 13 user ratings
|Atlas Shrugged Part I
by Peter Sobczynski
Like binge drinking and jam bands, the works of author/philosopher Ayn Rand tend to be embraced wholeheartedly by many people when they first enter college only to be largely abandoned by all but the most dedicated followers by the time they graduate. However,
there have been enough of those die-hards to keep both her two novels, 1943's "The Fountainhead" and 1957's "Atlas Shrugged," and her concept of Objectivism, a brand of philosophy that essentially promoted the joys of social and economic individual self-interest and the evils of anything that even vaguely smacks of lending any form of assistance to those who are just too lazy and gutless to be rich and powerful
captains of industry themselves, in the public eye during the ensuing decades. Although Rand, who died in 1982, was around to see Hollywood tackle "The Fountainhead" via a King Vidor-directed opus that is mostly looked at today as a silly camp spectacle featuring a miscast Gary Cooper in a role he was at least 20 years too old to play, she
didn't survive to see her magnum opus "Atlas Shrugged" make it to the screen but after decades of attempts to film a work deemed by many to be unfilmable, "Atlas Shrugged: Part I" has finally arrived, more or less, and as I was watching it, I began to wonder as to whether I would survive it as well. Tackling roughly the first third of the book, the ensuing film is a cheap and cheesy bore that will completely confuse anyone who isn't intimately familiar with the material while causing even the staunchest Objectivists to object to a final product that is, for all intents and purposes, little more than this decade's "Battlefield Earth," albeit with fewer Dutch angles and somewhat neater facial hair.Set in 2016, "Atlas Shrugged" posits a United States that is heading straight into the toilet thanks to a government that seems hell-bent on rewarding group mediocrity over individual achievement via the twin yokes of collectivism and statism. As a result, millions are out of work, industry is at a virtual standstill, gasoline is selling at $37 a gallon and Ragnar the Pirate is wreaking havoc throughout the world. To make things even worse, the once-powerful and revered leaders of industry are mysteriously vanishing for reasons that appear to be linked to the enigmatic question "Who is John Galt?" Thanks to the latter, one of the few businesses still sort of thriving is the railroad industry and one of the leaders on that front is Dagny Taggart (Taylor Schilling), a tough-as-nails executive who has been running things behind the scenes of her family's once powerful firm and making all the tough decisions while her brother, James (Matthew Marsden), the actual president, is too busy frittering things away by making illogical deals and unwittingly hobnobbing with the very people who would like to destroy his business for good.
"An Atlas That Doesn't Hold Up"
With the future of her railroad at stake thanks to rail outlays in dire need of repair, Dagny decides to stake everything on a revolutionary new steel that has been devised by two-fisted, hard drinking man's man/business magnate Henry Rearden (Grant Bowler) to replace her tracks. Readern's product is a miraculous product that is lighter, stronger and cheaper than any other steel (it probably tastes like marzipan to boot but the film doesn't delve that far into its particulars) and one might naturally assume that such a product would single-handedly spearhead a major initiative to repair the country's crumbling infrastructure that would create millions of jobs and boost the economy. Alas, since this story is basically "Red Dawn" for economics majors, a vast conspiracy arises that seems destined to destroy Henry and Dagny's plans for success; the State Science Institute issues a proclamation deeming Henry's steel to be unsafe despite evidence to the contrary, the leaders of the rail workers union refuse to allow their men to work their line out of alleged safety concerns and the government passes laws forbidding anyone from owning more than one business. Despite all these obstacles, the track is finished on time, the new train line works like a dream and with the support of oilman Ellis Wyatt (Graham Beckel), it appears as if Hank and Dagny will beat the odds and succeed until a sudden turn of events threatens to ruin them for good while once again pondering the question "Who is John Galt?"
As you may have surmised from the occasionally snarky tone of what I have written thus far, I am not exactly a fan of Ayn Rand, though my objection to her is based less on her philosophy and more on the fact that her books are virtually unreadable garbage that feature narratives that play like bizarre fusions of a year's subscription to "The American Spectator” and dime-store romance novels that are written with the kind of prose stylings rarely seen outside of meatpacking guides, hideously unlikable and unsympathetic characters and philosophical arguments so simplistic and silly that the B team of a typical high school debate club could easily poke enormous holes in it in only
a few minutes. That said, a decent or at least tolerable movie could have been made out of "Atlas Shrugged," I suppose, but that is certainly not the case here. For starters, a movie like this needs to be made with the same kind of heedless abandon and boldness embraced by its central characters with no expense spared in that effort along the way. Instead, it was rushed through on the cheap when the producers were in danger of having their ownership of the film rights to the book lapse and the haste and lack of budget can be felt throughout. As a result, what could have been an absorbing and sweeping tale consists largely of an endless series of scenes in which characters with
ridiculous names meet in strangely underlit rooms in order to exchange dialogue that is so awkward and graceless that it feels at times as though the characters are speaking in a heretofore unknown foreign language. As for the sweeping scale of the story, it is virtually nonexistent as well. The depiction of the not-too-distant dystopia is never convincing for a second and the special effects used to depict Dagny's fabulous train are straight out of a lesser SyFy channel movie. Director Paul Johansson, whose biggest claim to fame as a director is a handful of episodes of "One Tree Hill," demonstrates no actual feel for the material and directs the entire thing in the plodding manner of a
questionably received presentation by the theater department of a lesser community college and even the scenes that one might naturally expect to go cheerfully over the top, such as the bit when Dagny deals with Henry's cold fish wife in order to possess a bracelet/shackle made from the first load of Henry's brand new steel, come off as utter bores instead.
Another problem is that even though the story is set in the not-too-distant future, though with enough unsubtle parallels to current events to presumably sway the slower members of the audience, the filmmakers have not made even a token effort to update the plot details to keep them from feeling as oddly dated as they do. Yes, there is a quick and confusing opening news montage that is meant to set up why trains are now the central mode of transportation in America long after they were supplanted by airplanes but all it does is call even more attention to the sheer strangeness of people in 2016 obsessing over the all-powerful rail industry. This could have been accomplished by either backdating the story to around the time when Rand originally set it and present it as a tale of an alternate U.S.A. or reconfigure it to deal with an industry that is as powerful now as railroads presumably were back then. The computer industry, for example, might have proven to be a fertile area in which to reset the story but this is a film about the world of contemporary big business in which hardly anyone even appears to use a computer--I guess that in the world of “Atlas Shrugged,” Real Men still use abaci.
Another crucial area in which "Atlas Shrugged" comes up short is in regards to casting because for a film like this to work, it needs larger-than-life actors with the kind of personalities that would mesh perfectly with their equally outsized characters. Over the years, any number of big stars have been linked to this project--Clint Eastwood's name had been bandied about for the role of Henry Rearden while Angelina Jolie was deemed by many to be a potentially perfect Dagny Taggart--but in the end, it has been cast almost entirely with a collection of no-name and no-charisma actors who seem to have been cast only because their real names are only slightly less ridiculous than the ones belonging to their characters. As Dagny and Henry, Taylor schilling and Grant Bowler are blandly attractive in the manner of second-tier soap opera stars but there is never a single, solitary moment in which either one is even remotely convincing as either titans of industry or as passionate lovers. Of the other actors, they are either forgettable at best and ludicrously miscast at worst (the guy playing Dagny's brother comes across like a high-school kid playing dress-up in his daddy's suit) and the most notable thing about them is the film's curious and almost certainly "coincidental" decision to cast actors with a pronounced ethnicity almost exclusively in the bad guy roles, the only
exception being the guy portraying Dagny's loyal African-American manser--I mean, her loyal African-American right-hand man. The only actors who make any sort of impression are old pros Jon Polito and Michael Lerner, both of whom turn up as sleazes trying to cut our heroes down to size in the name of the collective good. Since both of them are veterans of the works of Joel and Ethan Coen, their presence allowed me to hold out a little bit of hope that the entire thing was just an elaborate jape and that Dagny would soon present an invention that would change the world forever. . .you know, for kids."Atlas Shrugged: Part I" is a terrible, terrible movie from start to finish--an unwitting example of the very kind of turgid mediocrity that it claims to be taking a stand against--and while Rand fanatics and Tea Party supporters who have subsequently glommed on to her writings will no doubt jump through any number of hoops in
the hopes of somehow overlooking its failings, even they will find themselves having to admit, if only in private, that it is a pretty weak adaptation of a work that they have cherished for so long. Nevertheless, despite the low quality of the finished product, the producers are still currently planning to make two more films over the next two years that will complete the story and once and for all answer the question of "Who is John Galt?" Frankly, at this point, I have zero interest in discovering who John Galt is or isn't but if the producers are serious about making the other two films, I would like to offer them four words of advice: More Ragnar the Pirate.
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originally posted: 04/19/11 05:20:57