I have been a fan of Ayn Rand’s novels ever since I was introduced to “Anthem” in the tenth grade. Even though I may not agree with her politics, I’ve always found Rand to be a fantastic story-teller with a talent for creating strong central characters. It saddens me that when a studio finally decides to adapt her novel “Atlas Shrugged” into a film (a project that has been in “development hell” since the early 70s) that the final product turns out to be a complete and total misfire. Director Paul Johansson managed to take subject matter that should have been presented with all the seriousness of the Bond film “Casino Royale” and turned it into something that I feel would have been quite appropriate as a made for Lifetime Channel movie. Despite other reviewers picking on “Atlas Shrugged” for its political and ideological views, my issues with this film boil down to four major points: a really scattered screenplay, low-budget cheapness, boring shots and really hit or miss acting.
Taylor Schilling gives quite a performance as Dagney Taggart, Operating Vice President of Taggart Transcontinental, who will do whatever it takes to keep her family’s business alive and growing in a futuristic America with a crumbling economy. Though the character remains completely tough and strong through-out the entire movie, it would have been nice to not have had to wait until the literal final shot of the film to see her shed a tear. However, that’s just the way the part was written so maybe I can’t pin that entirely on Schilling. With what she was given, I think she did what she could while also having quite a few scenes that made me want to say “adda girl!” In particular a moment when she tells a man in her office, “Get out. You do not come into my office and proceed to tell me what I will and will not do!” Despite these few instances of Dagney being a power-house of professional female fury, the character doesn’t really seem to change much at all and remains just a flat and 2-dimensional character.
Grant Bowler plays Henry Reardon, metal tycoon who’s developing a new metal that is incredibly lightweight and stronger than steel. Reardon is also Taggart’s love interest, even though he’s married to a gold-digger of a wife. My first thought when I saw Reardon was Daniel Craig and as the film goes on it becomes quite painfully apparent that Daniel Craig is most likely who they wanted for the role. The same is also true for Taylor Schilling who seemed to give off a Julianne Moore sort of vibe. These two characters team up to do everything to hold onto their business as politicians continue to raise taxes and impose policies due to corporate greed. Reardon’s character doesn’t seem to grow much either; he simply broods next to his wife, broods in his office and happens to smile whenever Taggart is around.
Their problems begin to grow as major CEO’s and businessmen, who are known for speaking out against the politicians and taxation, begin to disappear. The only clue left behind is a question that is either written somewhere or told to the last person who saw them, “Who is John Galt?” In the film, John Galt is presented as a shadowed, trench-coat wearing and mysterious man who appears to these people promising them that he is the leader of a society where they can live happily without the tyrannical rules and taxation of the politicians (there’s a lot of emphasis on taxation in this film). It just so happens that John Galt is played by director Johansson, who does a lot to stylize the film to give it the vibe of a mystery film, but the clean and polished look of the final product really gives the film a cheap, boring and cheesy feel. In my opinion, “Atlas Shrugged” would have benefited greatly from a gothic, industrial, 50s noir vibe rather than being set in a modern day reality.
The tragic failure of “Atlas Shrugged” isn’t just the directorial and writing failures as it was the fact that the film was just a complete and total box office and financial failure. This film was the first part in a planned trilogy of films and now that the first part has bombed so completely, the chances of the story being completed in two future sequels are slim to none. Sadly, this means that the part of the world who has forgotten what it means to read a book will never know the answer to the question, “Who is John Galt?”
“Atlas Shrugged: Part I” is now available on DVD/Blu-ray.
CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT: 6