Friday, April 20, 2012

DVD Review: Atlas Shrugged Part I

Atlas Shrugged Part I * ½
Directed by: Paul Johansson.
Written by: John Aglialoro & Brian Patrick O'Toole based on the novel by Ayn Rand.
Starring: Taylor Schilling (Dagny Taggart), Grant Bowler (Henry Rearden), Matthew Marsden (James Taggart), Paul Johansson (John Galt), Edi Gathegi (Eddie Willers), Patrick Fischler (Paul Larkin), Michael O'Keefe (Hugh Akston), Geoff Pierson (Midas Mulligan), Michael Lerner (Wesley Mouch), Jon Polito (Orren Boyle), Rebecca Wisocky (Lillian Rearden), Christina Pickles (Mother Rearden), Jsu Garcia (Francisco D'Anconia), Navid Negahban (Dr. Robert Stadler), Graham Beckel (Ellis Wyatt), Ethan Cohn (Owen Kellogg), Neill Barry (Phillip Rearden).

Despite how bad it is as a movie, it is almost a shame that the second two parts of the proposed Atlas Shrugged trilogy do not look like they will ever be made. Producer and co-writer John Agialoro blames critics for the bad reviews they gave they gave the film for sinking it at the box office, and has effectively decided to go on strike, like the exceptional people in his movie. But it wasn’t bad reviews from liberal film critics that sunk Atlas Shrugged Part I at the box office – it`s that it really is a bad movie. After all, films like Courageous and Fireproof also got bad reviews from most critics, and marketed themselves outside normal channels to a mostly conservative audience, and did quite well. Still, it is a shame that the heart of Ayn Rand`s paranoid, right wing fantasy will never make it to the big screen. As ridiculous as I find the premise, it could have made for some good entertainment.

Last year, upon hearing that a film version of the book was coming out, I finally bit the bullet and read Rand`s magnum opus of a book – well over 1,000 pages – and one of the most popular books ever written. It was a long, slow read – and not one I particularly enjoyed, but before you accuse me of it simply being because of my liberal bias – I`m not trying to hide the fact that I am in fact a  liberal – what bugged me about the book was the stilted dialogue between the characters, and how one dimensional everyone was. People will either 100% great or 100% awful. The characters that Rand admires are logical all the time – like a race of Spock`s – and make every decision – even who to have sex with – with their brains. To me the book, as entertaining as a paranoid fantasy as it was at times, really didn’t understand human nature or behavior. This movie is the same way – without the redeeming value of being an entertaining paranoid fantasy, because the movie never really gets to that part. The movie doesn’t really end, but just stops.

The film centers of Dagny Taggart (Taylor Schiller), second in command behind her incompetent brother James (Matthew Marsden) of Taggart Transcontinental, a railway line that was once great, and has fallen into disrepair. It is 2016, and the American economy is on the brink of collapse (damn Obama!), and for some reason railway transportation is of upmost importance (the reason is that when Rand wrote her book, railway transportation was much more important than it is now). She decides to repair the railways using Rearden Metal, the brainchild of Hank Rearden (Grant Bowler) which is being attacked even though it is lighter, cheaper and stronger than steel. The Government is trying very hard to ensure they regulate everyone out of business. And the worst part is that many of the country’s best and brightest are disappearing. And everyone is asking “Who is John Galt?”

There are multiple problems with Atlas Shrugged Part I. Rand’s stilted dialogue is pretty much retained word for word – and no matter how stilted it seemed on the page, it sounds even worse when spoken by the actors. The leads – Schilling and Bowler – are wooden and emotionless throughout. Although there is the presence of some fine character actors in supporting roles – Jon Polito, Michael Lerner, Patrick Fishler and Michael O’Keefe – none of them are really given a chance to develop their parts. The visual look of the film isn’t half bad – yes, it looks and feels like a TV movie, but not a horribly directed one. There is some nice art direction despite its low budget.

The biggest one though is that the movie is just so damn slow. Yes, Atlas Shrugged is a very long book – and unlike say Breaking Dawn you definitely need to split it up into multiple movies or a miniseries to get it all in there. But it appears to me that the filmmakers were so in love with Rand`s novel, they didn’t want to lose everything. This means the forward momentum of the movie quite simply isn’t there. Ayn Rand`s Atlas Shrugged was a lot of things – but boring wasn’t one of them. I may disagree with almost everything she said in her life, but she was interesting in how she said it. So no, I do not agree with the politics of the movie – but that`s not why I hated it.


  1. Part 2 is in production now and will be released in October 2012. Visit the movie's official facebook page for details.

  2. Interesting. I guess I should have checked that, but the only interview with the producer I found said that he thought the reviews killed the movie, and he didn't think he would make Part II. Looking forward to Part II. Hopoefully they take note of what didn't work in Part I, and fix them. Because as I said, this SHOULD at least be entertaining.