Railroad executive Dagny Taggart and steel mogul Henry Rearden form an alliance to fight the increasingly authoritarian government of the United States.Railroad executive Dagny Taggart and steel mogul Henry Rearden form an alliance to fight the increasingly authoritarian government of the United States.Railroad executive Dagny Taggart and steel mogul Henry Rearden form an alliance to fight the increasingly authoritarian government of the United States.
Rand's '50s novel is updated to 2016, with an intro montage informing us that gas at the pump costs over $39 per gallon, commercial air travel is no longer feasible (we do see a private jet later in the film, when convenient), the Dow is at 4,000, and railroads are back in pre-eminence in America. Add to that a mythical domestic steel industry in full flower, ignore the rest of the world and you have the idiotic starting point for this science fiction (minus the science) exercise.
The best-selling novel with its legion of fans deserved, even at this late date, a first class treatment, perhaps by Oliver Stone (in his WALL STREET mode) or by Hollywood's right of center statesman Clint Eastwood. As an indie production perhaps Mel Gibson as director, but his right-wing credentials include religious fanaticism, a no-no for the atheistic Objectivist cult.
So we get a fan-based production, with executive producer Mike Marvin, who I remember well from HOT DOG...THE MOVIE. If that sounds a bit odd, while watching ATLAS SHRUGGED I recalled my favorite similar film, going back to the '70s, Harold Robbins' THE BETSY, which had a plot line of family dynasty in the auto industry and the industrial wars therein, parallel to ATLAS' story involving a family railroad dynasty of the Taggarts.
Robbins as pulp novelist had a philosophy underpinning his sexploitation works -namely hedonism. Rand's Objectivism is quite different, but strip it away from both novel and film and ATLAS SHRUGGED is a dated potboiler, Robbins-style but minus the sex.
Throughout the film it feels like we're in the '50s. Endless cocktail parties are staged with a dated look and glamor; the central concerns of aggressive captains (and a queen) of industry struggling for supremacy in a corrupt and government-intrusive environment is old-hat.
A young generation might theoretically be interested and respond to the adolescent dreamworld in which the entrepreneur is king and role model. After all, an impressionable youth in America today is likely to dream of $uccess as becoming the next creator of a Google or Facebook.
But what is the entry point for identification with this turgid film's characters? The "good guys", stalwart heroine Dagny Taggart and her romantic soul mate, steel magnate Hank Rearden, are cast with unknowns who act their roles as flatly as any pancake. It's daytime soap posing as nighttime programming.
Since a chief villain, Dagny's ne'er-do-well brother who shares ownership in their family railroad, looks like the young (with hair) Billy Zane, my mind wandered to reshaping the film as an exploitation direct-to-video effort: why not cast sister Lisa Zane as Dagny? The Zanes had teamed up in a wonderful B video 20 years ago titled FEMME FATALE which starred future Oscar-winner Colin Firth -now there's casting! Spicing up ATLAS SHRUGGED with some good, old-fashioned sexploitation could have made it watchable (it sure helped THE BETSY become a drive-in favorite).
Instead we have straw men galore to hiss at: notably Michael Lerner as a corrupt government official; Jon Polito on loan from the Coen Bros. as a scheming insider; a nonentity as a corrupt union boss who Dagny boots out of her office; a mealy-mouthed do-gooder asking Rearden for a handout (he gets a check for $100,000 to just go away) for one of his "aid-the-poor" causes; and other assorted "collectivists". This is a world of rugged individuals, and the film's laissez-faire capitalist message is laid on with a trowel.
Looming at every turn, and promising to take center stage in Part III of this projected trilogy, is the hack director Paul Johansson in the role of John Galt. A shadowy figure in trench coat and big hat, he suggests nothing more than jailbird lobbyist Jack Abamoff, reducing the film to pure camp with each appearance. Of course former movie producer Abramoff could have made a comical cameo in the role, but like Gibson, he is seriously religious and therefore from the wrong subset of the right-wing club.
Special effects of sleek new 250-mile-per-hour trains whipping along the American west are OK, but otherwise the film looks like a poverty row production and is a merciless talkathon. Called upon to spit out reams of boring dialog, Taylor Schilling as Dagny wears one expression throughout, becoming a hairdo in search of a character. She simply cannot carry a feature film on her shoulders (I know, "Taylor Shrugged"). I would have cast Cate Blanchett with '40s shoulder pads, but even a Reese Witherspoon or Sandra Bullock, among Hollywood's most bankable actresses, would have been preferable miscasting.
Grant Bowler is even worse as her romantic equal Hank Rearden -he has merely a smug expression throughout, whether batting off impudent nuisances or signing away most of his corporate empire after evil politicians and competitors get a ridiculous "anti-dog-eat-dog" bill passed through the legislature limiting every capitalist to owning just one company. That's the level of subtlety of this asinine script.
- Apr 11, 2011