Try as I might, I cannot envision Atlas Shrugged: Part 1 appealing to any potential audience. The obvious place to start would be fans of Ayn Rand’s original novel and those politically and socially aligned with the Objectivist movement; apart from the fact that her philosophies have been thinned to the point of almost complete nonexistence, the pacing is such that it would be more stimulating to watch grass grow. For the rest of us – including those who think Objectivism is immoral and code for fending for yourself – it’s a matter of having to endure scene after scene of indecipherable corporate lingo. Honestly, listening to the characters talk is a little like overhearing lunch conversations between Wall Street brokers. Short of an advanced degree in economics or business, it’s highly unlikely you’ll understand a word of what they’re saying.
The film, which adapts only the first third of Rand’s novel, is cheap looking, sloppily edited, and monumentally boring. It makes not the slightest effort to be stimulating or even controversial, and this is really saying something given the fact that both the book and the film are generally endorsed by the Tea Party. The dialogue seems to have been transplanted from the pages of an investment portfolio, which is not a good thing if you want your actors and the characters they play to come across as human. Regardless of politics, regardless of social values, there’s no theory under which it was acceptable for this movie to be so blatantly unentertaining. Like the television pilot Jerry Seinfeld and George Costanza created, it can be summed up with one word: Nothing.
The year is 2016. Because of global unrest and poorly managed government intervention, the United States is in the depths of a severe economic depression. Turmoil in the Middle East has led to gargantuan surges in the prices of oil and gasoline. As a result, passenger trains have become the dominant mode of transportation. In the midst of this political chaos, we find Dagny Taggert (Taylor Schilling), who, along with her brother, James (Matthew Marsden), runs Taggert Transcontinental, a railroad company. An accident on the western line of the railway defines the their personalities; whereas James is a sniveling brat who believes a lack of generosity led to the company’s downfall, Dagny is a ruthless and self-sufficient entrepreneur who has a vision for the company’s future – and will go to great lengths to see it through.
The derailment was the result of aging steel tracks. Dagney, determined to prove herself capable of running a successful company, commissions the replacement of the old rails; she appeals to a wealthy metal tycoon named Hank Rearden (Grant Bowler) for the use of his experimental alloy, which is said to be lighter and stronger than traditional steel. Top engineers and scientists, who operate under government sponsorship, question the safety of Rearden’s alloy and publish numerous reports denouncing its use. This would not be the first instance of government interference; politicians, most importantly Wesley Mouch (Michael Lerner), are envious of successful companies like Rearden Steel and look for ways of limiting their usefulness to the country. In due time, legislation will be passed that limits the number of businesses a single person can own.
As all this is happening, Dagny and Rearden notice that the brightest and most productive members of the workforce are disappearing. Although we don’t see where they end up, we do know that each person is approached by a mysterious figure in a black trench coat and fedora hat, whose face is always concealed by shadows. Tied in with this is the popular street phrase, “Who is John Galt?” a sarcastic and sometimes venomous response by the downtrodden masses to questions with no answers. But really, who is John Galt? Presumably, he’s the man in the black coat and fedora, whose words and sinister tone of voice reek of cult recruitment. Strange, how these productive men, who are promised a utopian world of individual achievement, would be drawn to someone who has appointed himself leader.
We see a lot of impeccably dressed people in swanky clubs, shots of railroad tracks snaking through the Colorado wilderness, and lingering views of sterile factory offices. With these settings, you’d think the film would be open to all sorts of stylistic possibilities. Alas, the visuals are about as distinct as a blank wall. Perhaps the film’s $10 million budget is to blame for this, as is the fact that director Paul Johannson stepped in just nine days before principle photography was to begin. In case you’re curious, that was on June 13, 2010, just two days before the options to the film’s rights were to expire. Add to that a shooting schedule of just five weeks, and it’s no wonder to me why Atlas Shrugged: Part 1 looked and felt so uninspired. The film is intended as the first part of a trilogy. If I were you, I wouldn’t hold my breath for parts two and three.