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.
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.