Atlas Shrugged: Part I Rubs Capitalism in Hollywood's Face

April 15 is a miserable day for American taxpayers, but it’s the perfect release date for the film adaptation of Ayn Rand’s classic novel Atlas Shrugged.

The ultimate taxpayer’s revolt movie, which has been in production for nearly two decades, will capitalize on the confluence of current issues that strike at the heart of the book’s message.

The marketing campaign has been small because the movie didn’t have a big budget.  One of the producers, Harmon Kaslow, said at a Heritage Foundation prescreening of Atlas Shrugged: Part I—the movie is only the first part of an ongoing saga—that he wanted the marketing effort to be “grassroots,”  The other producer, John Aglialoro, has been the CEO of several large companies and is a former U.S. poker champion.  Both are complete neophytes in the movie-making industry.

Unlike the typical Hollywood story line of scientists, environmentalists, and government officials fighting against greedy, profit-seeking corporations, Atlas Shrugged: Part I turns the formula on its head.

The villains are instead members of society who try to leech off the hard work of others.  Their only skill is in using government machinations to plunder from their fellow man.  The list of villains includes incompetent CEOs, government bureaucrats, and altruistic pinheads.

The storyline of Atlas Shrugged: Part I generally follows two main protagonists.

The first is Dagny Taggart (Taylor Schilling), who is the vice president of the railroad company Taggart Continental.  She deftly handles the day-to-day business of the company while her brother, James Taggart, is the incompetent CEO whose only real skill is using political influence to gain governmental favors.

The other main protagonist is a brilliant metal inventor, Hank Rearden (Grant Bowler).  He is a hardworking entrepreneur who has created the world’s strongest, but untested, metal.  Unfortunately he is married to a cold and decadent wife who ungratefully spends all of his money on herself.

The plot of Atlas Shrugged: Part I revolves around the complex partnership between Hank and Dagny.  Both need each other professionally.  Dagny needs Hank’s revolutionary new metal to revive her family’s company, and Hank needs the contract with Taggart Continental to build his budding young company.  As the story moves along, however, their relationship extends far beyond the professional.

The subplot of talented workers, entrepreneurs, and businessmen disappearing eventually becomes the focus of the movie.  A phrase used exasperatingly by many characters and then sarcastically by Dagny over and over again is “Who is John Galt?”  This is the character who symbolizes the power and the glory of the human mind.  As the world is falling apart, the only people who can save it are either being attacked for being successful, or are simply leaving.

While the theme and message of Atlas Shrugged: Part I are sure to resonate with Tea Partiers, libertarians, and conservatives, some elements of the film remain noticeably lacking.

Despite an impressive first scene of a roaring locomotive racing toward its spectacular doom, there is a definite lack of visuals.  The set design could have certainly used a bit more artistic flair.

Another problem is that many of the characters’ performances are wooden and stiff.  Because the film is not visually spectacular, there was an even greater need for powerful character performance, and it really just isn’t there.  Some individual performances stand out, including Taylor Schilling’s portrayal of Dagny Taggart, but many of the characters simply don’t mesh well.

So Atlas Shrugged: Part I doesn’t have the best visuals or character performances, but it does have a number of memorable scenes.  The portrayals of the government bureaucrats, in their brief time on screen, are well-done and humorous.  And there is no lack of particularly detestable characters, such as super lobbyist Wesley Mouch.

Atlas Shrugged: Part I certainly has its flaws, and the lack of a major marketing campaign will probably hurt its chances of success, but it is a movie that goes against everything Hollywood is known for.  That alone makes it worth seeing.


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