Despite being a bestseller with more than 7 million copies in print, and having been hailed repeatedly—if not quite accurately—as the second-most influential book in America, it has taken more than 50 years for “Atlas Shrugged” to reach the big screen. That’s probably because the novel and its espousal of author Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy is even more reviled than it is loved.
Rand’s tale is told in three sections, with this new film appropriately titled “Atlas Shrugged Part 1” (there are plans to make the other two), in which steel magnate Henry Reardon (Grant Bowler) and rail executive Dagny Taggart (Taylor Schilling) join forces to create a cutting-edge rail line, fighting greedy/lazy/stupid relatives and government regulators every step of the way.
Throughout their journey together, some of their colleagues and other leading lights of industry begin to disappear mysteriously, many leaving behind nothing more than a simple question “Who is John Galt?” Unless the producers are prepared to throw good money after bad, that question may remain unanswered, as this first installment just isn’t very good. This story is tough enough to adapt, but with a brutal script, it’s got no chance.
For all Rand’s gifts as a thinker--and regardless of how you feel about her conclusions, she remains a thinker of prodigious importance--only her most ardent fans would call her a gifted writer. And so the film’s script, adapted by Brian Patrick O'Toole and John Aglioloro, is riddled with simplistic polemics that are painfully pedantic and often condescending. Rand’s capitalist heroes are never challenged by someone of equal intellect, but differing views. You’re either with Taggart and Reardon, or you’re a moron—an approach which makes for passable op-ed copy, but gets tiresome as dialogue in a feature film. Whether O’Toole and Aglioloro lack the skill or the courage to massage Rand’s word and philosophy into natural dialogue is unclear.
Bowler and Schilling, along with co-stars Michael Lerner, Jon Polito, Edi Gathegi, Patrick Fischler and Christina Pickles, are powerless to make the dialogue work, and so can only dutifully recite their lines without wincing at how stilted they sound. The bulk of director Paul Johansson’s experience is directing episode of “One Tree Hill,” and it shows. He fails to coax his actors into properly emoting and lacks an eye for the epic scope of something like “Atlas Shrugged.” The whole affair looks like a TV movie.
With the country only just beginning to climb out of a recession that many blame on Rand acolytes like Alan Greenspan (who was also a close personal friend), politicians trying to demonize the unions that Rand hated so, and the Tea Party wailing against government intervention into our lives, now would be a great time for a thoughtful and well made version of “Atlas Shrugged” to hit the big screen. Oh well…
"Atlas Shrugged: Pt. 1" is opening in limited release