It was a hit in my book and my hat goes off to the producers, especially John Aglialoro who financed the 20 year long ordeal to get it made. I mentioned before the struggle that this book has had in becoming a movie. The fact that it was made is in itself amazing.
Just as the book, the movie is controversial. It amazes me that after 55 years, the novel still has that power. I read several reviews and much of the expected rumble was evident (atheistic, silly, improbable, ridiculous, cultish). Some reviews were very positive but they came mostly from the “pro” side of Ayn Rand. The movie does have flaws, but I believe you can overlook them and enjoy the movie and celebrate the fact that Rand’s vision has finally been realized as a movie.
Regardless of the critics, the fans came out strong. In fact, although only showing in 300 theaters, it grossed $1,667,000 as of Sunday afternoon. That is a big coup for a movie of this kind, especially where there was no advertising in the traditional sense. Let’s hope it goes viral.
Let me say at the outset that I am a big fan of Atlas Shrugged the book and Rand’s other books, and I am a somewhat (yes it’s possible) student of Objectivism. So I don’t claim to be impartial here.
I am assuming you have read the book. If you haven’t you should. I trot it out every so often and re-read it. I’ve read it four or five times over the years. It is one of those books you will love or hate. If you love it, it can change your life.
Except for a few misses the cast was excellent. Taylor Schilling was spot on for my vision of what Dagny Taggart looks liked. Yes, I know she was a brunette and not a blond, but she carried off the haughty, confident, f**k-all-you-guys-if-you-stand-in-my-way attitude. She’s easy on the eyes and is an excellent actress.
Grant Bowler was also an excellent realization of Hank Rearden. OK, so we can’t get Gary Cooper (Rand’s favorite) because he’s dead, and Bowler is a bit on the short side, but the guy can act and he pulled it off well.
The Wesley Mouch and Orrin Boyle characters were perfect as the sleazy cigar-chewing back room crony capitalists. James Taggart (Matthew Marsden) is a good actor but in my opinion he was miscast or misdirected. He failed to reveal that whiny edge-of-desperation fear of the James Taggart in the book. Ellis Wyatt was over the top and didn’t have the gravitas that the strikers of the book had. Lillian, Hank’s vapid wife, was simply not, umm, pretty enough. The real Lillian was what we would call today a trophy wife. Sorry. And, Eddie Willers? I would have left him out rather than just have him as a minor cardboard character. Hugh Akston was about as far from the brilliant Professor Akston that I could imagine.
I had expected the production to be … less than good, but I was pleasantly surprised at how good the production values were considering the fact that they shot it in 27 days and had to rush into it at that. It has this warm tone to the cinematography that gave it a bit of a period-piece look but it was effective. Especially the scenes in the bars with Mouch, Boyle, and James Taggart. Rich fat cats conspiring to drive the achievers out of business to mask their incompetence. In fact now that I think of it, the film had a film noir kind of aspect to it.
Also, the filler scenes of railroads were done well, just that they became repetitive. But they did give you a sense of the power of rail traffic.
The setting in 2016 I thought was a clever bit to mask the fact that we are still talking about rail as the major method of transporting cargo and people around the country. It isn’t a stretch to hop scotch from today’s economic mess to the massive depression that Rand envisioned. But, it would have been too expensive to set it in the ‘40s or ‘50s.
I thought the animated scenes of the train rolling down the track of Rearden Metal at several hundred miles an hour were thrilling and done well. Too bad we didn’t catch the drama of the moment in the scene of Hank and Dagny in the lo0omotive.
The film as a whole I thought was entertaining and told the story well enough. But it failed to deliver in some big areas, mainly drama. I’m not faulting the actors; they were given the script to deliver. Yes, there were times when they could have done better, but on this I fault the director for not seeing Rand’s vision. He saw the story but not the vision.
They tried to squeeze in too much of the story in order to be faithful to the book, and that’s not how movies are made. It’s one thing to ruin a book; it’s another thing to portray the spirit and core of the book in cinematographic style. Film tells stories differently than books. Remember the goal of this movie: sell Rand’s ideas and turn people to her books. But to do that you have to be entertaining. Otherwise it will just please the core fan base and not reach the great unwashed.
I put Rand in that great stream of Romantic novelists. It is the tradition that Rand saw herself in. She was a passionate, dynamic woman of great intellectual powers, great flaws, and strong will. Atlas Shrugged is not just a novel of philosophy but a dramatic story of two great forces pitting themselves against each other for power: the achievers versus the looters. There is no better age old theme than that. All the forces of human nature are there, from base to sublime: passion, drive, integrity, honor, intelligence, achievement, lust, love, power, decadence, anti-intellectualism, thuggishness, futility, cowardice, desperation, and fear. It is an epic struggle of which she writes.
So where is the heat in the movie? I found this lacking. I will continue to blame the director who doesn’t seem to have many credits to his name (“The Incredible Mrs. Ritchie”). But who knows what went on behind the scenes.
I’ll give you one example of what I mean. One of the arcs of Part 1 of the novel is Dagny and Hank’s unspoken passion for each other. Hank is married, is dutiful but unfeeling to his wife, and, without admitting it to himself, sees a soul mate in Dagny. Dagny wants Rearden from the get-go. There is one scene in the novel which made it into the movie that was critical to their romantic development. The scene is Hank and Lillian’s lavish anniversary party which Dagny attends. Also there is her former lover, playboy Francisco D’Anconia.
Lillian is wearing the famous “Objectivist green” bracelet made from the first pour of Rearden Metal, the culmination of Hank’s brilliant career. Lillian has of course disparaged the gift and wears it to remind everyone there how long-suffering she is. The scene in the book is scandalous and shocking: Dagny, overwhelmed by the sycophants at the party impulsively takes Lillian up on Lillian’s offhanded offer to trade it for a diamond bracelet. In the book Dagny causes a huge scene and the room is focused on the two of them. Lillian is embarrassed by Dagny’s brazen display of what everyone now assumes to be her love for Rearden and perhaps now everyone is guessing that Dagny is Rearden’s mistress. Lillian is flustered, the trade is made, and Dagny walks proudly out of the room with the bracelet she covets while people are talking about her. Francisco watches the whole thing.
In the movie this scene was played rather flat, as if it were just one more scene of the entire movie. It was done without the dramatic buildup that is needed to make an emotional as well as intellectual impact.
I don’t want to pick the film apart because I thought it was good and I’ll probably see it again just to experience a more relaxed viewing of it. I, like every Rand fan, was holding my breath throughout the showing, hoping it wouldn’t be a flop. And I came away very pleased, a little disappointed, but enthusiastic about promoting it.
If it were me I would re-shoot and re-edit some scenes to give it more drama. If you’ve gone this far, then there is a duty to Rand and her ideas to get it right. It’s more of a mission than just a “project” as they say in Hollywood. I know Aglialoro has this vision and I hope my comments are seen as constructive. And then, when Wyatt torches his oil fields, I really would feel like cheering.