Taylor Schilling as Dagny Taggart
Grant Bowler as Henry Rearden
Matthew Marsden James Taggart
Graham Beckel as Ellis Wyatt
Edi Gathegi as Eddie Willers
Jsu Garcia as Francisco D’Anconia
Michael Lerner as Wesley Mouch
Armin Shimmerman as Dr. Potter
Patrik Fischler as Paul Larkin
Paul Johansson as John Galt
Michael O’Keefe as Hugh Akston
Jon Polito as Orren Boyle
Geoff Pierson as Midas Mulligan
Rebecca Wisocky as Lillian Rearden
Attempting to revive her family company, Taggart Transcontinental, Dagny Taggart’s (Taylor Schilling) business becomes intertwined with an industrialist, Henry Rearden (Grant Bowler) and his new super-strength alloy that could revolutionize the entire world, provided villainous government regulations don’t stand in the way. Together, the two risk everything to build a new train line that, if it’s successful, could usher in a new age of economic prosperity.
All the while, however, something sinister is happening behind the scenes as the greatest minds on Earth begin to disappear, going “on strike” from a system that doesn’t allow them unrestricted control of their innovations.
Based on the first third of Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel, “Atlas Shrugged Part I” is built to deliver a metaphorical narrative representative of the author’s ideals. Her philosophy, known as Objectivism, cites the dangers of social altruism, exalts a personal philosophy of acting in one’s own best interests and proposes an economy based in absolute laissez-faire capitalism. Proponents of the movement argue that governments restrict and limit their “free-thinkers” through overbearing legislation that prevent mankind from achieving its true potential. Those opposed suggest that Objectivism encourages greed, selfishness and inequality and that, as a political structure, it serves an alternate form of fascism.
It would be impossible to offer any analysis of the film version without betraying some degree of personal stance towards Rand’s (and presumably the filmmakers’) beliefs. That being said, the intent of this review is not to debate the politics or ethics of Objectivism, but to ask whether or not the film has any value outside dogged, self-serving propaganda.
Put simply, it does not.
“Atlas Shrugged” is double-feature material for “Battlefield Earth,” offering a slavish interpretation of a story whose primary reason for being retold in the first place is cult devotion. While said devotees may deem the film successful at literally bringing the events of the book to the screen, there’s zero sense of character, dialogue or pacing. That is, the requisite traits that even make this technically a story in the first place are close to nil. Every scene in the film is a corporate meeting between two fantastically dimensionless characters, either “good” or “bad,” pretty much alternating between good/bad and good/good pairings. Cut, now and then, with footage of a train, leading to the film’s dramatic climax… people riding on a train.
Admittedly, there is a bit of intrigue involved in an intertwining story that has the world’s greatest minds disappearing from society, but the uninitiated should know that the mystery plays about as much a role in “Atlas Shrugged Part I” as it does in the trailer. It’s an unpleasant tease that maybe something will actually happen in, god forbid, the sequel.
What else of the film can be argued for the positive? The cast is fairly impressive for such low-budget fare, particularly in the film’s leads. Both Taylor Schilling’s Dagny Taggart and Grant Bowler’s Henry Rearden are charismatic and shockingly likable for a pair of two-dimensional business executives who seem to hate everything but themselves and their own personal success.
Look, the problem with adapting “Atlas Shrugged” in the first place is that it’s just not a great story. It’s a conceit for Rand’s politics and a literal adaptation only preaches to the choir (which is to say nothing of the anachronistic trouble of hinging the future of the world on the railway system). There are plenty of films out there that, should one be so inclined, could be argued in favor of an Objectivist philosophy, regardless of the filmmaker’s original intentions. There have been intriguing Rand-ian parallels drawn in mainstream works like “The Incredibles,” “Watchmen” or, most recently, “The Social Network” and doing so doesn’t spoon-feed the audience and instead opts for a far more artistic and subversive way to discuss the same principles.
That’s the reason that, ultimately, “Atlas Shrugged Part I” is such a laughable failure. Wholly unappealing, it replaces storytelling with zealousness to foolishly argue that, if you have nothing to add, you should get out of the way of the people that do.
“From each according to his ability,” stands against the central tenants of Objectivism. Whatever ability the forces behind “Atlas Shrugged Part I” have, filmmaking isn’t one of them.