Review: Atlas Shrugged Part I
On Friday evening, a close friend and I filed to a local theater with about a 100 other movie-goers to catch the first of three installments of Atlas Shrugged on its opening night. We were both excited to see the movie, based on the book that is considered to be Ayn Rand’s magnum opus, but there was also skepticism because every fan of the book knows that this would not be an easy film to make.
There has been talk of trying to bring this very long, very in-depth novel to the Silver Screen for close to 40 years. Albert Ruddy, producer of The Godfather, approached Rand in 1972 about bringing the novel to life. Rand wanted final approval of the script, and because of this, Ruddy declined to proceed. Talk of turning Atlas Shrugged into a movie or miniseries would come and go throughout the several years. As recently as three years ago, it was reported that the movie was in the works, it would have a $70 million budget, and Angelina Jolie would play Dagny Taggart, the book’s heroine. In all too familiar fashion, it fell apart.
John Aglialoro, a businessman, bought the right to make the movie with full creative control from Rand’s estate in 1992. With his rights to make the film running out, Aglialoro began production in June of last year with a $5 million budget – though producers have recently said the budget wound up closer to $10 to $15 million.
For those of you not familiar with Atlas Shrugged or any other of Ayn Rand’s work, let me briefly explain. Rand, who lived in the Soviet Union until immigrating to the United States in 1926, believed very much in laissez faire or free-market capitalism. She opposed collectivism and statism in all its forms; communism, fascism, and socialism. Over the course of time, Rand developed her own philosophy, which she called Objectivism. This philosophy placed emphasis on her economic beliefs and the concept of rational self-interest. Rand described it as “the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”
Atlas Shrugged Part I, directed by Paul Johansson, is set in the not so distant future and establishes what would happen when the producers of society, tired of being persecuted for making money decide to abandon it, or strike. Throughout the course of the film, various men are approached by a mysterious character, John Galt (Johansson), and lured to a place where the producers of society can live without being persecuted by a government that only seeks to punish them for their success.
The film opens with a stream of news headlines tumultuous economic times, very similar to what we witnessed in our most recent downturn and news of another wreck on Taggart Transcontinental’s Colorado-based Rio Norte rail line. With the company losing business to a competing rail line due their failure to maintain replace aging tracks. Dagny Taggart (Taylor Schilling) tells her incompetent brother, James Taggart (Matthew Marsden), that she has canceled their contract with Orren Boyle (Jon Polito) struck a deal with Henry Rearden (Grant Bowler), owner of Rearden Steel, to use his new, untested alloy to replace the 100 year old tracks on the Rio Norte Line in hopes that they can save the company.
Because of her brother’s reluctance to trust Rearden’s metal, Dagny leaves Taggart Transcontinental taking the Rio Norte line with her to shield the company from any damages should the line falter. Her intention is transfer it back into the company’s possession should it be successful. Dagny changes the name of the Rio Norte to the John Galt Line and, after a long search, is able to find funding through Ellis Wyatt (Graham Beckel), owner of an oil company that could benefit from the line, Rearden and others.
Rearden is approached by the government with an offer to buy his metal and a warning that they “cannot afford to allow the expansion of a company that produces too much.” Rearden establishes that the metal is his property, the fruits of his energy, and he would not sell it. He becomes a target of his competitors and, who use the government to stifle his success. Legislation is passed to prevent any person from owning more than one business, forcing Rearden to transfer ownership of his other companies.
Another piece of legislation, the “anti-dog-eat-dog rule,” is passed to prevent competition among railroad companies. This new law, orchestrated by lobbyist Wesley Mouch (Michael Lerner) and James Taggart, single-handedly wipes out Taggart Transcontinental’s biggest competition, the Phoenix-Durango Line.
After a successful run of the 300 mile John Galt Line, Dagny, Rearden, and Wyatt celebrate over dinner. Rearden and Dagny begin a relationship, which helps the movie earn a PG-13 rating. That same evening, Wyatt answers a knock at his door from a man offering a place where producers are treated like heroes, not antagonized by looters and moochers.
Mouch is later appointed to a new position as nation’s economic planner. He announces in a speech that a moratorium is being put in place on rail bonds and a new tax would be applied to the state of Colorado, which has been fortunate in these very tough economic times, to “equalize our national economy.”
As Mouch’s intentions are announced, news breaks of a fire in Wyatt’s oil fields in Granby, Colorado. Dagny drives to his home, which is close to the fields, runs up to the top of a hill overlooking them in disbelief. As the camera pulls back, we see a sign that says, “I am leaving it as I found it. Take over. It’s yours.”
The film, which was clearly made for fans of the novel, attempts to fit the first 10 chapters of the book in a 127 page script in around 100 minutes. Getting to know the characters as well as you do in the book is impossible. There seemed to be chemistry between Bowler and Schilling. Jsu Garcia’s performance as Francisco d’Anconia, left a lot to be desired. The CGI is downright terrible. Also, there could have been more emphasis placed on dialogue between the characters.
Despite the obstacles of a small budget and a cast of no-name actors, Atlas Shrugged deserves more notoriety than it will receive. The book has seen a significant increase in popularity in the last few years thanks to a society that believes, much like plot of this story, that we can punish producers without any consequences. How much longer will those that create the jobs tolerate a government that essentially punishes them for being successful without shrugging? But why ask such useless questions? “How deep is the ocean? How high is the sky? Who is John Galt?”