This weekend I saw the second part of the movie trilogy ((hopefully) based on Ayn Rand’s famous novel, Atlas Shrugged. You can see my review of Part I here.
First, look at the box office numbers this weekend. Note that the movie opened Friday, so it has been released for 3 days. At No. 11 and $1,746,000 that’s not bad at all from a very definitely non-mainstream movie. See the numbers here.
I thought it was a passable B-grade movie. But not much more. In that respect the movie was very disappointing. The fact the movie got made was heroic endeavor in itself, so keep that in mind as I discuss the movie. That aside, no matter what the circumstances were behind the production, the producers and the director failed again to do justice to Rand’s novel.
Let me say again that I am a big fan of Ayn Rand, her philosophy, and the book. I first read Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal during the summer of my first year at law school. Then The Virtue of Selfishness, and other of her treatises, and finally, Atlas Shrugged. I also discovered Mises about that time and had quite and intellectual revelation. These books changed my life.
Let us make the assumption that the purpose of the movie, aside from making money, was to bring the book and Rand’s ideas to life. Let’s assume the goal was to convince as many people as one could of the validity of those ideas through the medium of cinema. Let’s assume that the movie was going to be viewed by many people who have not read the book. The Rand fans need no selling; the movie was preaching to the choir and they probably enjoyed it because they understood the story and the storyline. If you hadn’t read the book, you would probably come out of the movie shaking your head thinking it was a poorly acted and produced B movie. In that respect, the most important one, they failed.
As my dear old mother used to say, if you’re going to do something, do it right. This was not done right. John Aglialoro, the producer and funder of the production had struggled to get this movie made. It was his money and his drive that got it made. Very impressive in the Randian tradition. But, like most cash-strapped productions with amateurish backers, the message got lost in the bad production.
Looking back on Part I, I bent over backwards to praise the idea of the movie because, like most Rand fans, I wanted to see it get made. But in Part II it was obvious they had learned nothing from their mistakes in Part I.
I read a number of other reviews of the movie. They could be divided into two categories: fans who liked Rand and the movie and those non-fans who didn’t (e.g., NY Times). The fans overlooked the flaws, much as I did in my previous review. The critics of Rand hated the movie, ridiculed its premise, and derided the production values.
So, I am trying to be honest with my readers. I am a fan, but the movie was pretty much a dud. Once the fans have seen the movie, it will fade away. I can’t see any non-fan having an excuse to see it because their friends will tell them not to bother to go.
First of all, the cast was changed, almost entirely. Taylor Schilling, the previous Dagny Taggert did a pretty good job in Part I. She fulfilled my expectations of what Dagny ought to look like. Not perfect, not a great actress, but good enough considering the bad dialog she and her fellow actors were saddled with. Same bad script in Part II but the new Dagny (42 year old Samantha Mathis) was definitely wrong for the part. She lacked the energy, looked tired, and was not very convincing as the invulnerable dynamo that Dagny is. The new Hank Rearden (Jason Beghe) was not bad, but not as good as Grant Bowler in Part I. Esai Morales as the new Francisco D’Anconia was pretty good. The cast of bad guys in Part I were much better than the new set of bad guys in Part II. I won’t elaborate.
Books don’t often translate well into movies. That’s why there are script writers to transform a book to a movie. Sure, we hear that “they ruined the book” in many cases, which is quite true as studios often sell out and cheapen books. But I don’t understand the problem they had with producing this movie. Perhaps there were too many limitations from the Ayn Rand Foundation which owns the rights to Atlas Shrugged. Perhaps they insisted on having the dialog be close the the book. I don’t know. Consider that they had the advantage of a bad economy and a corrupt political environment making this movie ripe for the times. Whatever the reasons were, they blew a great opportunity to popularize Rands ideas.
For a movie to be successful you need compelling characters, a cohesive and appealing plot, great direction, and great cinematography. So here we have a story of capitalism and freedom vs. socialism, with bigger than life heroic protagonists fighting a brutal and power-hungry state run by patently evil people, with the economy and society falling apart around them, a secret rebel force dedicated to taking down the state, and a triumphant finish where the good guys emerge victorious. Oh, yes, there is a great love story between Dagny and her three suitors (Francisco, Hank, and John Galt). Can anyone tell me that that came out in this movie?
This movie was torpedoed by a very bad script, bad acting for the most part (but what can you do with a bad script?), poor direction resulting in characters that seem to be miscast, flat, passionless, and uninspired, a too complex plot line, and pedestrian cinematography. I would add bad production values as well since most of the special effect animation was cheesy, but I understand the limited budget, so that can be excused. The rest cannot.
Part of the problem may have been the Estate of Ayn Rand. They obviously had no clue as to what to do with this property and they gave it to Aglialoro who in good faith and the best of intentions, but no experience, did his best to bring the book to life. That was a mistake. Perhaps there were too many restrictions on what he could do. The movie does have the feel of a committee production. Perhaps he just didn’t have the ability to produce a good movie. Too bad.
If it were me, I would have done it as a TV mini-series, gotten a great script writer and a great director, and raised a ton of money from wealthy libertarians. If I couldn’t do that, then it would have been better to just leave it alone rather than turn out a shoddy product. Too late.