(US - 2011)
How much you get out of this adaptation of 1/3 of Ayn Rand's mammoth 1957 novel obviously depends on how much you buy into Rand's ideas. But political and philosophical differences aside, ATLAS SHRUGGED: PART ONE is anti-entertainment of the highest degree: a pompous, boring, lecturing textbook barely come to life. This is a film that glorifies the moral right to an unregulated, laissez faire free market while condeming government intrusion, taxation, unions, altruism, and finally, the common worker--metal magnate Hank Reardon (Grant Bowler) barely tolerates what he calls "the miserable children trying to stay alive desperately and very badly." And he's the hero!
I'm sure observing a theatrical showing of this in the presence of harumphing one-percenters might've made for an interesting sociological study because what's onscreen isn't interesting at all. Unlike Rand's novel, the film is set in the future of 2016, where gasoline is $37.50/gallon and oil shortages have made rail travel the most affordable mode of transport. Railroad heiress Dagny Taggart (Taylor Schilling) allies herself with Reardon to create a new rail line using Reardon's newly-patented metal, which he claims can last 100 years without needing repair. This kind of durability scares the politicians and the palm-greasers in Washington, who set out to abolish Reardon's metal and forbid him from having a monopoly on the industry. Meanwhile, CEOs and captains of industry are disappearing at an alarming rate after meeting a trenchcoated figure named John Galt (played by director Paul Johansson).
|Grant Bowler and Taylor Schilling in a thrilling action scene from ATLAS SHRUGGED: PART ONE|
Long considered unfilmable--a theory concretely proven by Johansson--ATLAS SHRUGGED was attempted to be made into a film as far back as 1972 when THE GODFATHER producer Albert S. Ruddy tried to get it off the ground. In the ensuing years and decades, numerous different producers and studios tried to get the ball rolling on an ATLAS SHRUGGED film adaptation or TV miniseries. In recent years, A-listers like Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Charlize Theron, Julia Roberts, and Anne Hathaway were said to be attached to the project at various points, but by the time it got made, and faster than you can cue the PRICE IS RIGHT losing horn, we ended up with Taylor Schilling, Grant Bowler, and Paul Johansson. Given the book's embracing by the Tea Party and Libertarian crowds in recent years, it's no surprise that top-tier "Hollywood liberals" wouldn't want to be seen anywhere near it, which explains why you end up with a cast that would've fit right in with LEFT BEHIND or THE OMEGA CODE or one of Christian auteur Alex Kendrick's recent grassroots hits like FIREPROOF or COURAGEOUS. Like those films, ATLAS SHRUGGED: PART ONE is preaching hard to the already-converted, so things like script and acting don't really matter. The performances are daytime soap-level at best, and the writing suffocatingly heavy-handed. Everything is a proselytizing proclamation that's just throwing red meat to the audience. Films like this don't have to try, because they don't have to be good. That's why you can get paycheck character actors like Armin "Quark from STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE" Shimerman, Jsu "I used to be known as Nick Corri when I was in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET" Garcia, and Michael "Nobody gives a shit about Danny Noonan's storyline in CADDYSHACK" O'Keefe onboard. It is disheartening to see Coen Bros. vets Jon Polito and Michael Lerner (a Supporting Actor Oscar nominee for BARTON FINK) schlepping their way through this, but I guess you go where the work is.
|Michael Lerner in his Oscar-nominated role in 1991's BARTON FINK, just one of many films you could watch instead of ATLAS SHRUGGED: PART ONE|
The best thing that can be said about ATLAS SHRUGGED: PART ONE is that it looks nice with its plethora of sleek, cold office interiors in various buildings. Otherwise, it's a total snooze, with endless babbling about metals and alloys and blah blah blah. It's not even a personal political stance that keeps me from accepting ATLAS SHRUGGED on its own terms. I've enjoyed plenty of films with differing political, personal, or philosophical views than my own. I don't agree with a lot (well, any) of the concepts this film endorses, but I agree even less with bad filmmaking, bad writing, and bad acting. Can you at least make the damn thing the slightest bit entertaining?
PART ONE, budgeted at $20 million, took in less than $5 million at the box office, which seemed to effectively kill any chances for the second and third installments being made. But producers claim PART TWO is underway and they hope to have it out in late 2012. Just in time to qualify for the Oscars, I'm sure.