Let’s get the obvious out of the way. I find the philosophy expressed in Atlas Shrugged—both Ayn Rand’s book and this film—poorly reasoned and morally repugnant. The idea that one can approach the book or the film made from it without tussling with that philosophy is absurd, since the raison d’etre in both cases is to promote that philosophy. And, yes, I actually have read the book. I neither buy into, nor do I like the source material, and I feel the same about the movie. But here’s the catch: However much I dislike Rand’s philosophy, I think both she and her book deserve better than this wretched bottom-of-the-barrel movie.
The movie was rushed into production by first-time producer John Aglialoro so he wouldn’t lose the rights to the book. So he then became a first-time screenwriter with the aid of Brian Patrick O’Toole (best known for writing direct-to-video horror movies), and signed a cast of no-names. Then he brought in One Tree Hill actor and sometime director Paul Johansson to helm the movie. Uwe Boll would have been a better choice. This is a conspicuous comedown for a project that once supposedly had the attention of folks like Clint Eastwood and Angelina Jolie. It also delivers exactly what its credentials suggest—a clunky, frequently silly, dubiously acted, barely directed TV movie. Or more correctly one-third of one, since this is only part one of a proposed trilogy.
The movie more or less does follow the first third of the book—albeit in simplified form and without much regard for narrative or character consistency. Anyway, the year in the film is 2016 and the U.S. is in a dystopian shambles (a very economical shambles, mind), owing to government interference and the apparent insistence of workers demanding a living wage. (One assumes the film is predicting a second term for Obama.) The Middle East is unstable, the seas are unsafe because of someone called Ragnar the Pirate (who unfortunately doesn’t appear in the movie), gas is $37.50 a gallon, and the railroad is once again king of transport and travel. Most of this is the movie trying to explain—not very convincingly—why it’s about something as old-fashioned as railroads.
Anyway, railroads are where it’s at in Atlasland, especially Taggart Transcontinental, a once mighty giant of the rails, now reduced to a shabby shadow of itself by evil government machinations and the spineless inheritor of the line, James Taggart (Matthew Marsden). But his hard-as-nails sister Dagny Taggart (Taylor Schilling), with the help of stand-up industrialist Henry Reardon, are determined to save the day—despite that darn government and the fact that the world’s great minds (like bankers) keep disappearing leaving us all flopping around like landed fish in our collective mediocrity, while everyone helplessly asks, “Who is John Galt?” Of course, these movers and shakers are being wooed away by the not-quite mythical Galt (played by the director), who dresses like McGruff the Crime Dog and stands in the shadows trying to sound like Clint Eastwood as he offers to take them where they’ll be appreciated.
Yes, it’s that silly and that subtle. Of course, there’s a lot—I mean a whole lot—of railroad-building footage that might as well have been lifted from an educational film. There’s also a perpetual motion engine (just lying around in a secret room—with windows, no less—at an abandoned factory), some tepid (even for PG-13) sex, and scads of bad dialogue just waiting to be immortalized on bumper stickers, and all of it delivered by actors who are incapable of seeing the absurdity of lines like, “Why these stupid altruistic urges?” In 1949, King Vidor and his actors dealt with this sort of thing in the film of Rand’s The Fountainhead by acknowledging the improbability of real people saying stuff like, “I play the stock market of the soul—and I sell short,” and making them ridiculously theatrical. Of course, Vidor was a real filmmaker with capable actors and a real screenplay by—oh, my God!—Ayn Rand. His movie was preposterous and entertaining. This is just preposterous. Rand is many things, but making her boring is a first.
Yes, this will please the converted—who don’t seem to care what Rand would have felt about the blatant courting of the Tea Party demographic, the shabby production values, or what that fiercely atheistic woman would have said about her work being distributed by an outfit known mostly for faith-based movies. There may even be some who don’t burst out laughing at the movie’s cheesy final proclamation. But will there be enough to see parts two and three get made? Time will tell, but its consistently dropping box office over the weekend tends to bode ill for that. Rated PG-13 for some sexuality.