Atlas Shrugged
(Part 1)

Atlas Shrugged (Part 1)
Made in: USA
Language: English
Director: Paul Johansson
Starring: Taylor Schilling, Grant Bowler, Matthew Marsden, Michael Lerner, Graham Beckel, Edi Gathegi, Jon Polito, Jsu Garcia
Year: 2011

Synopsis: Based on the world renowned novel by Ayn Rand, this film version takes place in the year 2016. Massive increases in government power have intruded into the private sector, and only corporations in favor with corrupt, power hungry politicians are allowed to prosper.

As a result, the nation is thrown into economic turmoil as increases in burdensome regulations prevent business people from getting anything done. As the airline industry dramatically recedes, trains once again become the dominant form of intercontinental transit.

With economic troubles mounting, the government seeks greater control by asserting a collectivist attitude while painting productive (and therefore wealthy) individuals as villains.

Enter the story's heroine, Dagny Taggart (Taylor Schilling). Part owner of Taggart Transcontinental, she's one of the country's last and most successful business owners. Her brother James (Matthew Marsden), on the other hand, has taken a different route to prosperity.

By forming a close alliance with Wesley Mouch (Michael Lerner), the nation's economic czar, James has only succeeded through political favors and by influencing his Washington pals to pass competition-stifling legislation.

James Taggart, however, is incompetent as a businessman and lacks the ability to make important decisions.

After a damaged track derails one of the Taggart freight trains, an accident that costs millions, Dagny is determined to save her company. She enlists the help of Henry "Hank" Rearden (Grant Bowler), an industrialist who has invented a special metal that is lighter, stronger, and more durable than any existing form of steel.

Recognizing that Rearden's success is an existential threat to their power, James Taggart and his allies seek numerous ways to discredit the new metal and to turn public opinion against him. They even go so far as to pass more anti-competitive legislation.

Undeterred, Dagny and Rearden proceed with their plan to replace hundreds of miles of damaged track in order to restore not only Taggart Transcontinental, but a vital commerce route that the country depends upon.

All the while, the nation's few remaining industrialists begin vanishing after encountering the enigmatic John Galt (Paul Johansson).

The Good: Director Paul Johansson deserves credit for trying to tackle such a huge project. The filmmakers definitely understand the main themes of Atlas Shrugged, and it's apparent that they're doing their best to remain true to Ayn Rand's philosophy.

The casting isn't bad, and Taylor Schilling does a decent job of bringing Dagny Taggart to life. She pretty much fits the description of the character from the novel, and plays well off of the rest of the cast.

With an extremely low budget (a little more than 6 million dollars), Johansson and crew stretched their dollar in creative ways.But with all that being said...

The Bad: ...strictly as a narrative film, Atlas Shrugged falls short. Really short.

For one thing, the story is way too rushed. Important plot points happen very quickly, and we never get much of a chance to know the characters or their backgrounds. Extremely important characters from the novel are watered down to having just a few lines (if they're even shown), and the mystery behind John Galt lacks emotional punch.

Another huge problem is that this film version of Atlas Shrugged relies too much on the hope that the viewers are already familiar with the book. The case for individualism and rational self-interest against collectivism (which is one of the story's central themes) is more effectively made in the trailer than in the whole movie.

Who would like this film: Atlas Shrugged is for you if you're a huge fan of the novel and have strong libertarian leanings. But even then, you're not missing much by sitting the movie out. And I'm afraid the film's overall presentation won't win Ayn Rand any new admirers.

The story's message is relevant to the present economic mess, and the book is eerily prophetic (despite being written in the 1950s). But again, none of that really comes through in the big-screen version.

As a libertarian myself, I agree with much of what Rand writes about, but this film doesn't do the philosopher justice. If you're interested in libertarianism or Ayn Rand, then I suggest you read the novel, even if it is longer than the average phone book.

(2 out of 4 stars)

Review written by: Joe Yang

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