It’s not an off-the-charts, go-see-it-10-times kind of flick. But if you’re a fan of the book, and if Ayn Rand’s philosophy floats your boat, you’ll like it just fine.
There are things I would have changed. For example, the dialogue hews fairly close to the book, and it’s a little off-putting – namely, that Rand wrote that stuff in 1957, and it doesn’t completely translate to 2011 vernacular. But then again, this movie was made primarily to appeal to folks who read the book – not a bad decision, since next to the Bible it’s the most influential piece of literature in America over the last few decades. And while the dialogue as is comes off as a little stiff, perhaps, it does give off something of a David Mamet/The Spanish Prisoner kind of vibe. It’s not as snappy as Mamet’s stuff, mind you, but it’s a little reminiscent of his work.
It also seems as though they raced through the first 120 pages of the book – the span which this Part 1 installment covers – in an attempt to keep the action moving, and in the process a couple of things were left out. For example, and this is a bit of a spoiler, the search for the new engine takes place at the end of the movie and it goes by like lightning. Some of that search, which is really the entire crux of the book in my opinion, gets left out. For example, the conversation about 20th Century Motors, and how the company collapsed, gets largely passed over. And because it does, what could have been a terrific scene or two gets lost.
That said, there’s plenty for fans of the book to like. The central theme of the book, namely that the people who make the country work are put upon time and again by the looters and moochers, comes through loud and clear. Without issuing any more spoilers, Hank Rearden’s home life and family are absolutely perfectly done. You’ll grow to hate the lesser lights in that crowd almost immediately. And Michael Lerner as Wesley Mouch and Jon Polito as Orren Boyle make for very good rent-seeking Washington fixers.
Taylor Schilling, who plays the protagonist Dagny Taggart, has a few terrific moments – like when she tells off the union goon and in the several scenes when she gives her rent-seeking incompetent brother what-for. It’s a somewhat uneven performance, though, and in general she comes off as a bit cold. The character as written in the book is that way, however, so it’s not an indictment of Schilling that while you like her in the role, you don’t totally identify with her. She’s easy on the eyes, though. Grant Bowler, who plays Rearden, is a little more sympathetic even though he’s the more hard-ass of the two – if only because you get exposed to the wife and the mother and the low-life brother.
Of course, Graham Beckel as the Colorado oil magnate Ellis Wyatt steals the show. Beckel’s a wild-ass whose “I don’t give a shit” attitude makes his the most interesting character in the film.
The most interesting character in the book, of course, is Francisco D’Anconia. He’s not particularly well-developed in this installment, and that’s largely due to the fact that most of the good D’Anconia stuff comes out later in the book. Even so, it would have been nice to see the D’Anconia character fleshed out more.
Naturally, the movie is frightening in the way it relates to our current reality. Our readers already know all that, so it’s unnecessary to get into the background of Ayn Rand and the prescience of much of her philosophy in modern times.
Will there be a Part Two? Producer John Algialoro said that would depend on whether this entry does well. So far it looks like it will. For the week of April 15-21, the film placed 14th on the box office charts with $2.2 million in receipts – but it appeared in only 299 theaters, the lowest total in the top 15. Atlas Shrugged averaged $7,411 per theater for the week, which was the best per-screen total in the industry outside of Rio’s $14,000. With a wider release planned – the screen count is up to 465 this weekend and is expected to reach 1,000 by the end of the month, thanks to the producers having sped up production of prints (they didn’t have enough to supply a wider release), it appears the box office take will expand mightily. Break-even for the film is only $10 million, which Aglialoro furnished out of his own pocket.
Assuming there’s a Part 2, a larger budget would help. The overall production values aren’t bad for a $10 million movie – particularly given that director Paul Johansson came aboard only nine days before the start of principal photography (which began two days prior to the expiration date on Aglialoro’s rights to the film). In a few weeks, though, it’s going to become obvious that the market for a second installment and the financing for a larger production will be there. And given that, the first film in what’s supposed to be a three-part series is really only a taste of what’s to come on April 15, 2012 and April 15, 2013.
But as a conservative, you really want to root for this film’s success. For lots of reasons, perhaps most notably that Atlas Shrugged is a classic conservative/libertarian story about the necessity for the producers to be left alone to innovate and produce and the evil done in the name of “social good” by poorly-chosen elites. But one reason to root for this film is that it’s a completely entrepreneurial production; Aglialoro was put through an 18-year ringer by Hollywood leftists who wanted to essentially destroy the character and message of the book to conform to their dominant worldview, so instead he opted to go the indie route. In doing so he’s likely going to end up with a success reminiscent of what Mel Gibson did with Passion Of The Christ, albeit on a considerably smaller scale.
That’s the kind of rugged individualism and iconoclastic endeavor this country used to be about. It’s also what uber-confirmist Hollywood, with its formulaic comic-book remakes and plastic end-of-the-world template films, generally hates. So if Atlas Shrugged ends up being a successful franchise, perhaps it will help break the business model the movie industry has used to give us worse and worse films over the past decade.
Call it a first installment. A down payment. Not a perfect effort, but a starting point and a reason to look forward to Tax Day next year.