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By - April 19, 2011

Filed under: Politics As Usual

Film Review: “Atlas Shrugged”

After many years of starts and stops and general frustration, Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel “Atlas Shrugged” has appeared in a screen version. That is, a part of the story has seen the screen, as this is Part I of a projected 3-film project.

I had read many reviews of the movie prior to seeing it, and was prepared to not like it at all, for all of the stated reasons: low-budget, “cheesy” special effects, no-name actors, etc. Actually, the negative reviews have been nothing short of savage in their scorn and ridicule. Just scan “Rotten Tomatoes” for some prime examples. There is something about this story that is digging at these people with deep and irritating effect.

Then my brother, who is not familiar with the novel or with Rand’s literary corpus, called me and said he had seen the film and thought it was pretty interesting and entertaining. This encouraged me to go see the film and make up my own mind.

The critics, I would have to say, are quite a bit “off” on this movie. Granted, it is not “great cinema” and surely won’t win any academy awards, but it is hardly the limp dog that so many film critics are saying. I found the story to have an energetic pace and some scenes that were actually stirring and inspiring.

I was not ready to accept Taylor Schilling as a credible “Dagny Taggart,” but soon got used to it and found her convincing. The other major characters (Grant Bowler as “Hank Rearden,” Jsu Garcia as “Francisco d’ Anconia,” and Rebecca Wisocky as Rearden’s icy wife “Lillian”) are effective and adequate. Physically, Garcia could not be more perfect as Francisco.

The story, following Rand’s novel, pits creative individuals against control-freak politicians, hypocritical do-gooders, and crony capitalists who embrace social policies of “fairness” over real achievement. Meanwhile, people of achievement are disappearing mysteriously from society, which is crumbling into incompetence and corruption.

One reviewer reflected that “Atlas Shrugged” is one of the best mediocre movies you are likely to see. I’d say that’s about right. But certainly for a project that was produced over one month of time under pressure of losing film rights, it’s not bad at all.

Some of the minor characters are weak. Owen Kellogg appears a bit preppy and wimpy as he informs Dagny that he is leaving his employment at Taggart Transcontinental Railways, and the character of Hugh Akston, the philosopher who has withdrawn to a cafe diner job, is simply unbelievable in the worst interpretation of that term.

One of the scenes most criticized is the special effects-driven scene of the Taggart train running over the Colorado landscape in the test run for Rearden’s innovative metal. I’m not an special effects expert, but the effects are adequate to the story-telling purpose, and within the context of the story it is a scene that is visually and intellectually satisfying.

On a scale of 5, I give Atlas Shrugged 3 stars, or a C+ if one prefers grades.

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