Atlas Shrugged, Part 1: …Paved with good intentions

Atlas Shrugged, Part 1 – 2011

Directed by Paul Johansson
Taylor Schilling, Grant Bowler, Matthew Mardsen, Graham Beckel, Edi Gathegi, Jsu Garcia, Michael Lerner, Michael O’Keefe, Patrick Fischler, Jon Polito
Written by
John Aglialoro, Brian Patrick O’Toole[  based on the novel by Ayn Rand

A few years back, when I found that they were making a book out of The Da Vinci Code, I decided to read the book that had spent much of the year at the top spot.  So poorly written was the book that I did not bother with the movie.  The problems with the book was not the ideas it introduced.  The problem was how the ideas are introduced, with a lack of any serviceable proof, other than “everybody knows” whatever they wanted to say was true.  Such is the one of the problems with Atlas Shrugged, Part 1.  One can see the origins of good ideas, like Objectivism, which is generally acknowledged as a viable ideology.  The problem is, there is so much information that needs to be pushed out, that it comes across as, ludicrous, if you stop and listen to it.

Having not read Atlas Shrugged, one wants to suspend the disbelief, but it feels about as strange to accept as it would to take Dan Brown’s word on it, when there is nothing to back it up.  That is not to say that there is not a nugget of truth to any of this.  Some of what is said, especially regarding citizens being discouraged from innovating in a regulation and union heavy environment, resonates, but the examples they use are just shouted, rather than exemplified.  As we see news footage of railroads being built, we hear about the forces of the government passing laws left and right, almost in sync with the steps of the protagonist barons’ innovations.  There is little more than a passing mention as to how these laws are justified.

As one ponders the Federal Government’s role against business in this updated version of Atlas Shrugged, you can’t help but consider how the two became intertwined the  since Eisenhower gave his famous Military Industrial Complex speech.  For this reason alone, the events, as depicted in the film ring false.  All one has to do is look at the corporate bailouts given out by Bush and then Obama to know it as certain.  So if, like Mitt Romney, you choose to believe that “corporations are people,” this adaptation will more than suffice as an example of what fine, upstanding and entrepreneurial citizens they are.  The concepts might be easier to visualize from the perspective of Rand’s time, when we were just out of 20 years of increasing governmental regulation of commerce, industry and resources.  Since then, especially since Jimmy Carter’s Administration on, things have changed.

Fantastic futures versus reality notwithstanding, the elemental problem with Atlas Shrugged, Part 1 is that of pacing.  The film stumbles through events like a drunk person at a party.  It is memorable, but not for the right reasons.  The acting is just a shade better than what one would see in one of those Christian-based films, like Fireproof.  There is awkward emphasis on basic human behaviors, leaving little room for reasoned response.   The best example of this belligerent acting style is the interactions between the Taggart siblings, Dagny and, especially James.  Their bizarre back and forth rings of someone trying so desperately to remember their lines, they forget what the lines are being spoken for.  This is not to say there aren’t good actors in the piece.  Michael O’Keefe makes all to brief an appearance, and there are known character actors like Lerner, Beckel, Polito and Fischler.  Their work only serves to make the chemistry of  leads Schilling (Dagny) and Bowler (Hank Reardon) closer to coffee pitchmen.

Throughout much of the movie, I kept wondering what amount of the $20 Million it took to make the film was actually spent on things you can see onscreen.  The special effects take away from the imagination, rather leaving something for it.  The empty halls used for parties, the board rooms used for high-powered meetings and the chrome and leather offices all scream “Put everything back as you found it before the owners arrive in the morning!”

The scenes of railroad building are limited to stock looking news footage.  The effect seems like something my 14-year-old nephew could create on his parents’ laptop.  There is so much disbelief that needs to be suspended to make this movie work.  All roads point to that whoever owns the rights to this film should have held onto them.  Some directors and producers can make $20 million look like $40 million.  The team behind this adaptation made it look like, around $15,000 bucks.

Does this make the novel not worth reading?  Hardly.  My wife got enough out of it that she is interested in reading the book.  I believe I will finally pick up that copy of The Fountainhead that my cousin gave me a decade ago.  What it amounts to, is a swing and a miss.  They will need to change things up before they start making the second part…if they get that far.  Even with an understanding of where they want to go, the tracks they’ve made thus far led nowhere.

(*1/2 out of *****)

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