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I was prepared to cringe at this Atlas Shrugged, universally panned by
the critics for its low budget and no-name cast. Instead, I was pretty
impressed. The story was faithful to the book, and the message and
narrative clear, with the producers wisely sidestepping most of Rand's
Yes, the budget did confine most shooting to interiors, but there was enough "big sky" material, railroad operations, and steel mill shots to give the film some scope. And the SFX and CG used in the supertrain shots, which probably absorbed half the budget, were worth every penny.
The cast, and especially Taylor Shilling, who played Dagny, and Grant Bowler (Rearden) did a great job.
Overall, I liked AS, and look forward to the sequels. I just hope the producers can raise the financing to make them.
It's been many years since I read Ayn Rand's iconic novel, but it all
came back to me as I watched this movie unfold. Indeed, the characters
have more depth and complexity in the movie version.
Most impressive is the production quality. I'm told this is a low budget movie, but it doesn't look that way. It is a visual treat.
The story line is true to the book but updated and set in a modern context that makes it feel fresh and exciting.
Every single performance is first rate, but the leads are truly standouts.
I can't wait for Parts II and III.
I have to admit that it's been years since I read the book (required
high school reading) and while I struggled to get through it, I did
appreciate the concepts of a dystopian United States, the philosophy of
Objectivism and the idea that civilization and society simply cannot
continue to exist where there is no creativity.
Almost none of this is covered in this first part of the trilogy. Don't get me wrong, the film covers a lot of ground, in fact it's front-loaded with heavy doses of exposition. The problem is the film is shot like a PBS made-for-TV movie (mainly a series of talking heads) and the stiff dialog is lifelessly delivered by TV actors that lack big screen presence.
Now, don't mistake me for one of those people who feel the subject matter of the book is too didactic for mass appeal, I just think this low-budget and amateur version lacks the fire and fury that Rand's novel deserves.
I'm not saying not to see it, just avoid the mistake I made. Go in with no expectations.
Hell, it might even make you want to pick up the book and give it a read.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I was convinced Atlas Shrugged could not be put on film, but this movie
proved me wrong. It has a contemporary look and feel, while retaining
the Art Deco elegance of Rand's novel. The acting is superb,
particularly Taylor Schilling as Dagny Taggart and Grant Bowler as Hank
Rearden. Bowler manages to cram more meaning into a half-cocked eyebrow
than most actors in a dozen lines of dialogue, and Shilling captures
the sleek, cold elegance of Dagny, while giving just a hint of the
passion simmering beneath the surface. Indeed, all the performances are
This is a beautiful movie to watch, with sets, locations and costumes that are both gorgeous and convincing. The run of the John Galt Line is thrilling, and when it crossed the bridge made of Rearden Metal, I wanted to stand up and cheer.
Director Paul Johansson (who also plays John Galt) obviously knew exactly what he wanted to put on the screen, and manged to do it. He is faithful to Rand's story, and in particular to the philosophical message that is at the heart of the work, while maintaining the excitement of the plot.
During her lifetime, Rand did not allow the novel to be made into a film, perhaps for fear that the movie would not be faithful to the book. It's too bad that she didn't live to see this movie because, I believe, she would be surprised and pleased by how well it captures the essence of her work. This is clearly a labor of love that will help make Rand's ideas accessible to many who have not yet read her work. And it's exciting and rewarding for those of us who have been Rand fans for many years. Can't wait for Parts 2 and 3.
Having read the book, seen the movie, and read a representative sample
of user reviews, I feel I can confidently make a few points that may
help those who haven't seen the movie yet.
The negative user reviews found here can all be placed in one of three distinct categories: (1. Those who disagree with Rand's philosophy for whatever personal reasons they have and would despise the movie for that reason alone, even if it were a cinematic masterpiece (it's not -- not bad under the circumstances, but "The Fountainhead" it's not); (2. Those who agree with Rand's philosophy and enjoyed the book, but are repulsed by the relatively low-budget treatment of the film and the somewhat stunted screen writing that isn't entirely faithful to the original work, and (3. Those who are completely ignorant of Rand's work and are seeing the film and judging it in a relative vacuum (these negative reviews do, in my opinion, have a certain merit inasmuch as the film doesn't really stand on its own as something that would appeal to the general movie-going audience).
That said, I enjoyed the movie. I agree with Rand's philosophy (not the "all-about-me" world view that her dissenters accuse her of espousing), so seeing it on the big screen is refreshing for me. The main faults I find with it are no doubt due to condensing roughly 350-400 pages of book into about 90 minutes of film without butchering it beyond recognition (films adapted from Stephen King's works generally have the same faults) compounded by a woefully inadequate budget. That the finished product came out as good as it did (budget limitations notwithstanding) is a testament to the production team.
In summary, the book is far superior to the movie (as is almost always the case), but I found the movie to be, frankly, a better adaptation than I expected and well worth seeing -- if one can identify with or at least appreciate the ideology presented.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I went into this film as a blank slate - someone completely unfamiliar
with Ayn Rand and her philosophy. I am aware that there are a number of
people who cite her novel Atlas Shrugged as a life-changing blue print
for living and society and others who dismiss it as complete bilge with
incredibly destructive properties.
I cannot attest to how faithful this film remains to the source novel, but I can attest to the fact that it is an utterly deadening, mind-numbing and thoroughly unenjoyable viewing experience. If I understand the gist of the Rand philosophy embodied in Atlas Shrugged, it seems to be that personal self-aggrandizement, selfishness and greed are the most important aspects of society and should be encouraged, while the average working man is so much forgettable dross to be dismissed and trod over. I believe Michael Douglas encapsulated this in a memorable speech back in 1987s Wall Street. It only took him a moment to convey it, whereas it takes Atlas Shrugged the entire film (plus a projected two more) to convey the exact same message. If I am incorrect about the Rand philosophy, then blame the film as those I went with came away with the same impression. I find it deeply disturbing that anyone finds this lunacy a blue print for society.
The story is pretty much a bunch of nonsense about uncompromising glacial blond Dagny Taggart teaming with Hank Reardon to build a new high speed rail system in the US against the obstacles placed there by the villainous government regulations. Anyone who disagrees with Dagny and Hank are depicted as either weaklings, villains or preferably both.
The story is purportedly set in the near future, but it is utterly laughable because it seems to exist in a hermetic bubble that has no relation to the world we actually live in. The fact that so much of the story depends on the success of high speed rail transit is ironic considering that conservatives, libertarians and Randians alike are currently trying to throw assorted obstacles into the path of such a plan currently being developed. The lunacy the film spouts about regulation and Big Government is pure hilarity considering that regulation has become progressively extinct in the US since the 1980s and it has proved to be to the detriment of the country not to its success. The film fails to mention anything about such modern conveniences as the internet and mentions nothing about the progress of other industrialized nations. Whereas we are currently looking at a corrupt government weakened by corporate brown-nosers answering to the highest business bidder, Atlas Shrugged seems to present such a thing as a utopia.
The film looks suspiciously like a made for TV movie, but made on the cheap. The cast is a wash-out with an array of unknowns and barely familiar faces trying to invest some degree of passion or emotion into the proceedings to little success. Taylor Schilling is hopelessly out of her element in the central role and she is ill-supported by the remainder of the cast. Director Paul Johansson casts himself as the elusive John Galt, an enigmatic mystery man behind the disappearance of the supposed cream of the crop in business, but this plot thread is so uncompelling as to be rendered comatose.
Laughably, despite the reported nadir of the country in the film, everyone we meet is wealthy, well-to-do, dressed to the nines and impressed with themselves to the nth degree. The "action" is basically a series of business meetings set in different random places. If you think your average staff meeting is provocative and sexy, then this is definitely the film for you. Imagine an episode of Dallas or Dynasty with lower production values, an absence of the campy characters that make the shows a guilty pleasure, and completely set in boardrooms/meeting areas and you have Atlas Shrugged down pat. Considering one must imagine the producers had some degree of passion to bring this to the screen, it is woefully absent on screen. The film lumbers to an exhilarating crescendo wherein we see people ride a train...quickly. This realization of this dream is so much for Dagny and the married Hank that they must consummate their romantic ardor in a scene with all of the erotic splendor of a memorandum. The complete ennui which dogs this film leaves the viewer soporific by the time it grinds to a halt.
Based on this initial effort, one can only wish that the world will not be victimized by Parts 2 and 3. As drama, it fails miserably. As a propaganda piece, it is more stillborn than the least interesting story from Pravda. As a life-changing film, one can only pity those who feel there is something of depth or worth here. Over the weekend I decided to give Rand another chance and caught The Fountainhead with Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal. The story was more nonsense which is purportedly about an uncompromising architect, but seems much more interested in jackhammers plunging into the earth while Patricia Neal lasciviously looks on posing provocatively in her impressive foundation garments next to the sky. It was foolish, but you know what? At least the overt sexuality was fun and Neal was amazing looking, both ingredients missing from this rotten mess.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I have little to no knowledge of Ayn Rand or her philosophy, but if
this odious cheap-looking stool sample is an accurate depiction of her
feverishly acclaimed novel, then there are a lot of delusional
psychotic people in the world.
The plot and action has all the momentum of winter sludge. Self-impressed icy blonde Dagny Taggart struts and preens all over the place in some daft effort to convince us that she is "uncompromising" and "bold" as she attempts to pursue high speed rail with an amazing new super-steel against the wicked machinations of the almighty government regulation and evil unions. The film is so laughably black and white in its depictions of everything that it fails to attain even the depth of a Dick and Jane preschool book. In short, Dagny and her married semi-lover/compatriot Hank Rearden are pinnacles of brilliance, while the rest of the world is comprised of either villains trying to stop them or an offensively simplistic depiction of the average working American as slovenly unimaginative ingrates whose fates are of no concern so long as Dagny gets her way. Given that Dagny and Hank are supposed to be such larger-than-life legends, it comes as a real shame that neither has a distinct personality.
Incomprehensibly, the film is set in the future, yet the action centers on the importance of rail transport. It would be hilarious if the film obviously did not regard itself with such outlandish relevance and undeserved reverence. Minimal effort is made to update the story, with little to no acknowledgments of such issues as air travel, the internet and the technical advancements made since Rand wrote her tome. The material would have fared far better if it was set in the past, but then again that would only have exacerbated the idiocy that nothing predicted in the novel has come to pass and, in fact, many of the policies the book/film seems to advocate so strongly for have led to very real disasters out in the real world. Of course, that doesn't stop this myopic piece of fiction from steadfastly advocating them anyway.
The country presented in Atlas Shrugged is supposed to be a notch above a wasteland, yet nearly every character that promenades across the screen seems to be a billboard for wealth and privilege. Admittedly, the film has little interest in the unwashed masses that it hold beneath contempt because it reasons they have no valuable contributions to make in the grand scheme of things. The events that do not unfold on the rails do so in ritzy clubs and swanky boardrooms, with the characters freely imbibing and trading such banter that sounds like it came from a particularly dry article of Money Magazine. A lot of what they spout is suitably incomprehensible gobbledy-gook, but then we average folk are not supposed to comprehend this level of brilliance. Given that this is only Part 1 of a planned trilogy, one can only hope that the action speeds up to a crawl by Part 2.
The look and feel of the film definitely smacks of cheapness, and Paul Johansson's stagnant direction is a further detraction. The only cast members I vaguely recognized were Michael O'Keefe and Michael Lerner, both of whom have fallen a long way from their forgotten glory days as Oscar-nominated actors. Taylor Schilling and Grant Bowler are the ostensible leads of the piece - both are undemonstrative and forgettable. It is admittedly difficult to portray larger-than-life ideologues, but neither Schilling nor Bowler have the charisma to bridge the mammoth personality black holes that pass for characters. If you think they lack as singular characters, as a couple they have all the charm of inanimate titanium rods. Their "love" scene is not only one of the most chastely filmed in the history of cinema, but has all of the heat and passion one associates with clenching a block of ice between one's butt cheeks. The film does not so much build to a conclusion or a "cliffhanger", so much as it resembles a comatose patient that expires on the operating table in front of us with no warning or fanfare.
For all of the film's bloated self-importance, it comes off a lot like that old relative that everyone dreads showing up at family events, who talks too loud and has a ragingly unpopular opinion on everything, and whose grip on reality is tenuous at the best of times. Yes, much like that relative, Atlas Shrugged is in dire need of being put in mothballs or consigned to the old age home of broken philosophies where it can mercifully fade away into the oblivion it so deserves. In the meantime, for those who similarly endured the torment of this film, you have my sympathy. And for fans of the film, you have my pity and I sincerely hope your therapist is a good one.
How is Atlas Shrugged different from any other movie? Why has is taken
54 years to bring Ayn Rand's epic 1,100 page novel to the big screen?
Why is it lacking participation from the A-list Hollywood names once
attached to it, Anjelina Jolie, Charlize Theron, Robert Redford, Clint
Eastwood, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Faye Dunaway? Why did it open on only
300 screens nationwide, and why was that opening on April 15, 2011,
coincident with the third annual Tax Day Tea Party? Why are the
founders and top executives of the nation's most successful industrial
empires disappearing without a trace, one by one? Why ask useless
questions? Who is John Galt? Because they have answers, that's why.
Those who have read Rand's 1957 magnum opus know the answer to the last
of those questions. This posting will suggest an answer to the first,
which may in turn offer clues to the others.
So, what makes Atlas Shrugged different? It takes place in the near-term future, 2016 (a departure from the book). That's not it; we have seen thousands of movies about an imagined future. The nation is in the worst economic recession in history. Nothing new there. People of former means are living in the streets, homeless and destitute, while the captains of industry and owners of large corporations grow rich. No departure from the Hollywood norm there. The story is told from the points of view of those ultra-rich tycoons and moguls, the movie's sympathetic characters. There it is. Never before has a major Hollywood movie departed from its pet formula in which the "bad guys" are the evil rich. Not until now has a movie examined the question, why do we hate the founders of corporations, and why do we blame them for unemployment, when they are the ones who create jobs, not destroy them?
Atlas Shrugged asks the viewer to think and understand, similar to other business- themed files like Wall Street and Rollover. Readers may be disappointed that the monumental size of the novel does not afford time for the screenplay to take the user into certain folds of the full story, since many characters must be introduced, and much of the political/business climate must be laid down as foundation. As a result, much of the screenplay consists of dry dialog, and much of the action from the novel is absent, presented in exposition such as newspaper headlines. The train wreck with which the book introduces us to heroine Dagny Taggart's heroic can-do character is shown only on a television news screen, and mentioned only once much later in dialog. The story of the Twentieth Century Motor Company's failure is given in brief narration by Hank Rearden. The back-story relationship between Dagny and Francisco D'Anconia is not explored at all. Eddie Willers is reduced to little more than an office messenger, periodically updating the principles on the latest story developments.
Dagny and Rearden themselves are played with dry professionalism by Taylor Schilling and Paul Johansson, owing to their characters' purely-business attitudes toward life. Only in the final cliffhanging scene does Schilling display the real passion of Dagny, in a single exclamation reminiscent of Scarlett O'Hara's anguished cry which closes the first half of Gone with the Wind. Some familiar character actors are present: Graham Beckel gives a compelling performance as oil magnate Ellis Wyatt, as do John Polito as steel competitor Orren Boyle and Michael Lerner as Washington lobbyist Wesley Mouch (conspicuously not pronounced, "mooch"). Rebecca Wisocky is delightfully unlikeable Rearden's ungrateful wife of 10 years, Lillian, inducing chuckles among viewers as she delivers snide, condescending comments directed at her successful husband, from whom she is nonetheless not too proud to freeload.
The cinematography is extraordinary, particularly during a montage in which the inaugural run of the new Rio Norte train crosses breathtaking views of Colorado. This movie gives us heavy industrial shots such as rail yards and steel mills, not as hideous rusted eyesores but as the industrialists see them: glorious grand machinery producing goods and pumping wealth into the nation's economy. That is another way in which this movie is different - its view that industry is not evil, enemy to all that is good and healthy, but rather the foundation upon which modern society is built.
The biggest disappointment is the sudden ending, to those who have not read the book and were expecting more than "half a movie." In reality, it is one-third, as the filmmakers have divided the story in same manner Ayn Rand divided the novel: into three parts. Atlas Shrugged, then is a trilogy, in which Part 1 only begins to hint at the answer to the pervasive question, "Who is John Galt?" The closing credits veritably beg for Part 2.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
warning: very mild spoilers
It is difficult to believe Atlas Shrugged could be made into a movie at all. To imagine it could be made into a movie for $10 million dollars in only several months is mind boggling. Yet there it was, on the screen. To be fair, the movie being released April 15th, 2011 is only the first third of the book, with parts 2 and 3 scheduled for the same date in 2012 and 2013. Also to be fair, if I didn't realize how difficult this novel would be to convert to film, and if I didn't know how tiny was its production budget, I might subtract a star or two.
Many characters, locations and events had to be eliminated to squeeze the first third of this 1150 page book into a 110 minute movie. They chose well what to retain and how to present it. While the novel was set in the 1950s, the movie is set about 5 years in the future. This was a stunningly risky decision, but to my great surprise they pulled it off quite well. This surely saved them millions in budget.
None of the actors are well known to me, though I thought a few of them looked vaguely familiar. The only actor I could place was Quark from "Star Trek Deep Space 9", which is rather humorous since he was buried deep in plastic, rubber and makeup in that series. However, the acting was almost uniformly good, and sometimes excellent. In particular Grant Bowler was a spot-on perfect Hank Rearden, as was Rebecca Wisocky as his crafty and vile wife. But other actors also impressed during their limited screen time.
One incredibly difficult aspect of making this movie is the inability for a movie to do what novelists regularly do... explain extensively what their characters are thinking and feeling. So by necessity this film implies what the characters are thinking and feeling with subtle cues, and by placing the characters in difficult situations and letting the audience watch how they react. This makes it impossible to include the kind of explicit exposition of philosophy that exists in the novel, but... this is a movie after all, and no plausible alternative existed. Besides, anyone who finds the movie compelling can read the novel and read plenty of explicit philosophy. Furthermore, fans of the novel already know what the actors are thinking and feeling, so this audio-visual presentation is the perfect complement to the book they already consumed.
Though the movie was excellent, I would have made a few changes. And indeed, it is possible some of the more trivial of these might be changed before formal release. First, I would not state in the movie that the current date is 2016, or any other specific date. The novel is timeless, and should remain that way on film as much as practical.
As I recall the novel, John Galt is not seen until quite late in the book, except anonymously in informal lunches with Eddie Willers. In fact, one interesting mystery for the reader was guessing whether John Galt was a real human, or just an accidental name plugged into the popular saying "Who is John Galt?", which was a popular synonym for "futility", "resignation", "hopelessness" and "who knows". However, they chose to make John Galt a very clearly real character in the movie (albeit never clearly seen). I don't understand why they did this, and unless I'm missing something, I wish they hadn't.
I can't ding the movie for this, but probably the worst part of the movie was... it ended after only 1/3 of the story is told. But that's true of many long stories, from the "Star Wars" saga to the "Lord Of The Rings" trilogy and so forth. But damn was it annoying to think we must wait another year for part 2, and an additional year for part 3. Perhaps adding to the bummer was the fact that part 1 ended on a very downer note (kind of like "Empire Strikes Back" did). Poor Dagny has to endure her pain for a whole year before she can move forward again. Oh well, that's life in the movies.
I hope this film works as well for people who never read the epic "Atlas Shrugged" novel, but I'm not sure I can answer that. I suspect it is compelling enough to get many to read the book, and learn why so many consider why this work even more crucially important today than it was ~54 years ago when the novel was published.
Definitely go see "Atlas Shrugged" at the theater on April 15, 2011 if it is released on a screen near you. If it isn't, call your local theaters and demand they bring it to your town. If all else fails, presumably a DVD will be released in a few months.
The movie isn't awful, but it isn't that good.
To anyone who has read the book, the movie lacks in several ways. The movie jumps in right at the point where the Taggert Transcontinental crashes after derailing. There's no background on the peoples' lives. You don't understand the relationships between Dagney, James (her brother), Francisco (her friend and first love) and Eddie (her friend and employee). You don't understand how much Dagney loves the railroad and how she took any job at the railroad when she was younger. It doesn't show how much the employees respect her versus James. You don't understand how intelligent and creative Francisco is and how he respects his ancestor who sacrificed everything for his love and his future generations so you're not confused (like you should be) why he's acting like he is.
I didn't get the "feel" of how desperate the general public deals with everyday life. Yes, there were a lot of street people, but the viewer doesn't understand why or that not everyone is lazy and/or greedy. You don't "feel" the disintegration of everyone's life and the country. You see superficial greedy, politicians but you miss the fear in most everybody's eyes. Also, it doesn't show how hard Dagney works to save the railroad by building the "John Galt Line." It doesn't show her frustrations or the long hours she puts in and how weary she becomes, but doesn't give up. Also, her office in the basement of the Taggert Building is sparse and cramped in the book which adds to her strength, but in the movie it looks just like her regular office.
The one scene that I think is important to the story is when Dagney is working very late one night and she sees a shadowy figure walk up to the door of her office and she thinks it might be Hank Reardon. The figure paces back and forth and then walks away. I think it's important to the story because later you find out it was John Galt and how he knew that it wasn't the right time to talk to her. The movie ends just like the book (part 1) with Dagney screaming "no!" at Wyatt's Torch. The movie is only 97 minutes long so they could have added more depth to the movie without tiring out the audience.
I don't think the movie will recoup the expenses of making the movie. If not, it doesn't seem they will truly continue with part 2 or 3.
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