REVIEW: Atlas Shrugged: Part I [2011]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 97 minutes | Release Date: March 11th, 2011 (USA)
Studio: Rocky Mountain Pictures
Director(s): Paul Johansson
Writer(s): John Aglialoro & Brian Patrick O’Toole / Ayn Rand (novel)

“Who is John Galt?”

The critical failings of the over fifty years in waiting adaptation of Ayn Rand’s seminal, controversial novel Atlas Shrugged: Part I are more due to the liberal slant of the industry then any shortcomings of the production. Critics across the country snidely remark how we shouldn’t “… hold our breath for parts 2 and 3” (Joe Morgenstern, admitting to not being an admirer of the author), but if you look at the per theatre average take of this independently financed endeavor as well as its unheard of success from its audience, I’d actually be surprised if director Paul Johansson and writers John Aglialoro and Brian Patrick O’Toole haven’t already started planning out the conclusion. To this avid fan of the novel, along with a familial contingent of devotees and a theatre—although meagerly filled with perhaps fifteen people—including a gentleman enthusiastically clapping at its end, we couldn’t have asked for a better film. All the details are included with dialogue transposed word for word, the set-up is calculated to perfection as it splits the lengthy tome into thirds, and the atmosphere constructed palpably transports its 1957 text to our eerily similar present. Never have Rand’s Objectivist views been more apt—Atlas Shrugged is no longer a fantasy.

If there is a fault—besides the blasphemy of renaming ‘The Valley’ with a more palatable ‘Atlantis”—it is that this movie cannot exist on its own. If critics decide to latch onto this fact and go to town, I can’t refute the point. This is an epic tale spanning through the destruction of an America populated by lazy moochers forcing the intellectual elite into self-made exile; you need all three acts to comprehend the bigger picture and understand Rand’s premonition of a society no longer holding an original idea as sacred. Part I has its own arc and it does make sense, but if I had not read the novel, I’m not so sure I would understand its progression. But we live in a world where every film churned out of Hollywood has a plan for at least two more to round out a trilogy, so we should be used to this by now. Would the filmmakers have been safer to shoot all three parts together so as not to alienate a public from spending 90-minutes without a payoff? Of course, but that doesn’t mean what they’ve done is bad. The property languished in endless turnaround and Aglialoro and company found a way to self-finance it, mirroring the heroes of the book—they should be applauded for the feat.

Peter Travers talks about the “low-budget, no-talent treatment,” but is that really a detriment? Is the fact this film doesn’t have an A-list star really a fact to base a review around? No, it’s lazy writing devoid of any real personal thought in a seven sentence, zero star review from Rolling Stone made up of commentary on the film’s release without saying anything the trailer couldn’t cultivate alone, calling to question whether he even bothered to see the movie. When did film reviews become political commentary devoid of any musings on the actual work? At least Roger Ebert took the time to talk about what’s onscreen in his lambasting, even if he harps on how stupid the use of railroads as the transportation of the future is, forgetting the opening montage explaining why the world had gone that route. It’s all explained and it is all a part of the world depicted. When a guy like Ebert waxes on about how a Wisconsin scene should have been changed to New Mexico, it only shows his pre-existing disinterest in the source material. These reviewers have an agenda and they leave all objectivity out the window.

The Northwest is a hotbed of industry in Rand’s world; it shouldn’t be changed for no reason other than the south having aesthetically better desert. Atlas Shrugged has been a work read, debated, loved and hated for decades and still remains as controversial as it was when published. Why should an establishment like Hollywood, controlled by those against the ideals posited create the guidelines on which it is made? Why can’t creative souls more interested in putting the book onscreen instead of an extravaganza butchered of its soul to entertain hold the reins? This material is about innovators earning a living on their ideas, about society learning to appreciate the saviors of the world as men and women willing to work for success rather than ride coattails to the top, relying on political rhetoric and public exposure to usurp control from those producing. It’s a story about the new guard ravaging the companies built up by their ancestors and plundering them for power and money without concern for the bigger picture. The villains of the tale are those who cry selfish at the people worthy of being so, hypocrites to the fact stealing and living off others’ wealth is the most selfish of all.

It’s about Dagny Taggart, (Taylor Schilling breathing life through her quiet confidence and absolute control over her actions), languishing behind an inept brother, James (Matthew Marsden), at the reins of their Taggart Transcontinental while attempting to save America’s economy by herself. Unwilling to pander to Washington, unwilling to play those games, she decides to stake her future in Henry Rearden (Grant Bowler) and his new metal, both stronger and lighter than anything ever created. She knows the country needs reliable transport from coast to coast, needs Ellis Wyatt (Graham Beckel) to have the means to disseminate his raw materials that run the nation. Here are two forward thinking individuals, Dagny and Rearden, who believe in a world of citizens with integrity and pride that will work for success, work to improve and benefit mankind, living in a time where silver-tongued politicians have the public’s ear, greasing the system and bending truths. Laws are passed dismantling merit-based systems in lieu of socialist actions; rather than allow men to be free to flourish, the government cuts off their legs, makes them sell off their hard work to others, and all but enslaves them to become whores for the puppets fattening their coffers with lazy wine and caviar nights.

Atlas Shrugged: Part I begins the journey into a world that unfortunately parallels our own too closely. Man’s ambitions are thwarted, companies are ripped apart from greed, and the men and women inventing and building a future mysteriously disappear, fed up with the present, horrified by what’s on the horizon. A shadowy figure recruits the intellectual elite for an unknown purpose, the government sets the stage for legislation risking to cripple the nation by never looking farther than one step ahead, and conspiracies on both sides slowly become uncovered, the full answers to come in subsequent films. Full of the sleaze dripping from actors like Jon Polito (Orren Boyle), Michael Lerner (Wesley Mouch), and Rebecca Wisocky (Lillian Rearden) and determination from Schilling, Bowler, and Beckel, this film is not lacking in believable performances, the hyper-real satire a calculated necessity. The political intrigue is taut and the climax riveting as the memory of what’s to come sent chills down my spine. To see Michael O’Keefe’s Hugh Akston smoking a cigarette emblazoned by a gold ‘$’ and Jsu Garcia’s—my favorite of the film—Francisco D’Anconia’s secretive duplicity, I couldn’t have been more satisfied.

[1] Grant Bowler (Henry Reardon) and Dagny Taggart (Taylor Schilling). ©2010 THE STRIKE PRODUCTIONS
[2] Dagny Taggart (Taylor Schilling) converses with her brother James (Matthew Marsden) at the Rearden Anniversary Party. ©2010 THE STRIKE PRODUCTIONS
[3] Dagny Taggart (Taylor Schilling) discovers the disaster of Wyatt’s Torch. ©2010 THE STRIKE PRODUCTIONS

One Thought to “REVIEW: Atlas Shrugged: Part I [2011]”

  1. Love the article Jared and really loved the movie. It’s such a shame this movie has been slammed by the critics … this indie movie doesn’t deserve it … I’m a good friend of Jsu Garcia, who plays Francisco d’Anconia … and we’re doing what we can to really support the movie and telling folks to go see it …
    Thanks again, keep in touch, Zoe Golightly

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