Review: Atlas Shrugged Part 1


If there’s one thing I was reminded of watching Atlas Shrugged Part 1 of hopefully 1, it’s that having the power to do something doesn’t necessarily mean one should. The person accused today is not character Dagney Taggart (the train magnate) or Paul Reardon (the steel magnate) but John Aglialoro the producer of this film. I can’t apply magnate to someone who was only able to collect ten million dollars to nationally release a movie based on one of the most prolific novels in recent history.

Aglialoro’s option on the rights to Atlas Shrugged would have expired just two days after this film was prematurely flung forward. He wrote the script himself, replaced the director one week earlier and cast actors furthest from the talent that expressed interest along the road to developmental Hell.

The following film is rated who cares? It was shot in five weeks and if I wagered a guess, edited in forty minutes. It boasts the most hilariously terrible ending to a movie I have ever seen. As if that wasn’t enough to fill my night with absurdity, cultists tried to recruit me in the theater. Under orders by John Galt, a fictional character, they tried to whisk me away to their gated community. I barely escaped out the back entrance where a homeless man played the funky chicken on his accordion.

[Note: 20,000 is the goal, not the current membership.]

Ignoring these people and their God, Ron Paul, what we have here is a story made incomprehensible, presented with a soap opera sensibility. Have you ever tried watching a soap for more than a minute, perhaps made curious by the softly lit, over-manicured women on screen? Within seconds it becomes a stopwatched challenge of self-abuse.

In 2016 (yes, five years from now) the world has collapsed or something. It’s never made clear because the plot is a series of angry broadcasters that talk over each other. Convoluted info bombs imply that socialism has transformed civilization to ash, not literally the barrens of nuclear wasteland but we can’t fly planes and everyone gets their information from colorless printed magazines called newspapers. Railroads, not tech, are the way of the future if there’s one to be had. Atlas Shrugged has been modernized, but society’s richest own computers built in the nineties. I guess the bigger the monitor, the bigger the Dell logo.

From the apocalypse rise the acolytes of money. Where failed politics continue to scar, industrial visionary Dagney Taggart will sooth. She and her man Henry Reardon know what the people need, regardless of what they want. Fuck due process when you exist on a whole other level. Their goal: to build a transcontinental railway. They’ll drive their 175 mph train across untested metal because smaller scale tests are for pussies and nobody has deemed it unsafe, until everyone does, but everyone is the bad guy in Atlas Shrugged Part 1.

“You never feel anything. You’re cold as metal.” Dagney’s brother tells her. The line is unnecessary because actress Taylor Schilling projects it in her every step. I suspect that before stepping into the Taggart role, she previously failed auditions for every television show about federal agents since Dana Scully grounded Fox Mulder’s wayward soul. I say this endearingly. Somewhere along the way she perfected the stride of downright-dangerous-in-a-pant-suit.

That said, it’s all posture and no passion. Even if the film’s sound didn’t cut out suddenly and actors weren’t framed so poorly that half their heads are outside the shot, we’re given little to like about these characters. They’re puzzlingly incompetent, always learning of each cataclysmic development when they get into the office, never before. Grant Bowler’s Reardon manages to bring a bit of humor with this, but not enough to merit a trilogy. You might remember him as Captain Gault from the television series LOST, not to be confused with Atlas character John Galt.

Herein lies another difficulty, perhaps the reason Atlas Shrugged was so difficult to finance. I figured out where it was going at the conclusion of the first scene, not because I’ve read the novel but because that text has since been ripped off so frequently that the mystery has lost its bite, much like the Randian rhetoric when presented stiff.

Who is John Galt? Without sequels I’m left to guess that John Galt is Andrew Ryan of the videogame Bioshock (“Rapture” is “Atlantis”). He’s Cable of the X-Men (in the pages of Cable & Deadpool) or Charles Widmore of LOST. I’m certainly only half on-point here since Alvar Hanso of LOST (inspired by B.F. Skinner) aimed for utopia, not Widmore, and Cable equated corporate extremists with the religious and political kind, fringes of society that crush the middle.

I’m more excited to read this book now, being a fan of all of the above, but the reason they work better in visual media is because they’re not constrained by reality. Disbelief is happily suspended in favor of the epic metaphor. Once we’ve accepted telekinesis, no supported constitutional violations will feel like a stretch. “Some of these so-called children possess ten times the power of a handgun. No I don’t see a difference; all I see is weapons in our schools.”

Atlas Shrugged is embedded in straight capitalism. That would be fine but the first third of a lengthy book is packed into less than two hours of screen time. I’m assuming the chronology has been altered here. A major railway and future-proof bridge are constructed in three months. During this time, a half dozen bills are signed into law. Employees can’t be fired from profitable businesses, *snap* transport vehicles are issued a speed limit, *snap* companies can’t own other companies. *snap* Subsidiaries are sold in less than a minute. *snap* Colorado is forced to pay an awesome tax for being awesome. 

It’s too much, too fast and delivered cold until the final shot betrays everything before it, making this bargain basement “part one” out to be Lord of the Rings. As a courtesy to my fellow filmgoers, who may be genuinely pleased, I suffocate my commanded laughter, nearly falling to the floor in a state of catatonic shlock.