Atlas Shrugged: Part I Reviews
The main fault with this film is how cheap it looks and feels, which is a disappointment. This film was made on less than a shoe string budget and, unlike films that make it hard to tell that it was made for dirt, this film shows it. Yes, the film looks beautiful, but aside from that, this film really offers nothing at all other than showing something of a mafia film, but replace organized crime with Train companies.
Back to the part about this film feeling like a mobster film, to me it was quite clear how much of an influence Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese had on Paul Johansson's direction. To me, it seemed like he watched their films, saw how they were great, and tried to take their talent without really adding any of his own. This aspect was a disappointment. The main good thing he does is make some of the talking scenes (and there is a lot) fast paced and pleasant to look at. Other then that, he does not really do anything that works good at all. Except for directing Taylor Schilling as the main protagonist Dagny Taggart.
Taylor Schilling is the best thing in this film, bar none. I will say that she does give a good performance, but that is not really saying anything at all. The other actors do a decent to okay jobs, but nothing really that stands out to me. The reason why I feel like having to say Schilling's name is due to her giving Dagny the most human of feels plus making her a strong, powerful female character. Her only fault with this film is the lack of emotions she has. For most of the film, she has this poker face like look and, while the character is established at the start of the film that she has no feelings, we all know that she is human and all humans have feelings. So, I would of liked to see more a human side to her. But for what she did, she did good, but not Oscar worthy.
With adapting the script, I am going to play Devil's Advocate and give this film the benefit of the doubt due to how difficult it is to adapted a 1200 page novel into three films, then take the four hundred pages that make up this film and break it into a one and a half hour film. Personally, I wish that there could have been a way to expand the script and the film by about thirty to forty five minutes and have more material put in. The novel, when read, is like reading beautiful poetry. When transitioned into film, it looses it's beauty. But, then again, I understand due to the difficulty of adapting a novel of this scope into a film.
Looking at other critical reviews of this film, I will say that this film is the most misunderstood and unfairly treated films of 2011. Yes, this film is not great nor is it even good entertainment. But, I will admit that there is something of a charm with this film that I like. But, I doubt I will set and watch this film again in the recent future nor watch this film over and over again. However, this is a film that I do ask people to give a try if they don't have the patience to read the original novel.
In the not too distant future, America's airline industry has ground to a halt due to rising gas prices ($35 a gallon we're told). The country has gone back to rail and leading that charge is Taggart Railway, lead by Dagny Taggart (Taylor Schilling). She's trying to save her company from her lazy brother, James (Matthew Marsden), who wants to rely on bribery and his Washington friends to get by. Dagny wants to join forces with steel tycoon Henry Reardon (Grant Bowler), who has staked his company's future on special new extra shiny steel. Other companies want to block Dagny and Reardon's efforts, relying on Washington to write strict laws penalizing the rich and successful and spreading the wealth around to those less unfortunate. At the same time, powerful businessmen seem to be vanishing and the only connection seems to be the identity of John Galt, a mysterious capitalist with an offer no rugged man of industry will refuse.
Maybe Atlas shrugged because he got tired of how unbelievably boring this movie is. Oh my goodness, I was rolling my eyes and checking my watch every five minutes. The vast majority of this film involves ideologues disguised as characters talking about esoteric business practices. A full 80 percent of the dialogue has to be about railways and steel and this manufacturing and ore mines and... I'm sorry I fell asleep in the middle of writing that sentence. Seriously, this movie could be a cure for insomnia. It's so crushingly boring that it makes you wonder how anyone could ever pick up Rand's novel and think, "This deserves to be a film." There are segments where characters will talk this corporate gobblety-gook in unbroken reams, the actors behaving like androids. Now technical talk is not necessarily a one-way ticket to snoozeville, as political and corporate dramas can be quite invigorating in the right hands (see: Margin Call). It helps when you have a story, but with Atlas Shrugged all we have are mouthpieces for a political ideology. Regardless of political opinion, the movie fails because it never makes the story feel like it matters. The dialogue is perfunctory, labored, and inert, bogged down with lazy philosophical jabs. It's all tedious expository dialogue with no room for character. Who wouldn't want to watch a movie completely around the conflict of whether a train will get its steel tracks? That's it. You wouldn't know any of this mattered without the helpful inclusion of an overly enthusiastic dramatic score. Who cares about any of this junk? If you're looking for the most high-profile movie of 2011 to talk about the infrastructure dynamics of railways, your long wait ends here.
Dagny and Reardon are supposed to be our heroes, the champions of the not-so-little guy, and thus we're intended to root for their romantic coupling. Never mind that Reardon is married because, in that age-old point of rom/com rationalization, his wife is a bitch. The two have one of the most robotic lovemaking scenes I've seen in recent memory, and this flash of sexuality and a few dirty words are the sole reason this film earned a PG-13 rating. These characters remain one-note and vacant, including icy heroine Dagny casually admitting, "I don't know how to feel." And then there's Reardon, who admits, "My only goal is to make money." What better antagonists than unfeeling heads of huge corporations who just want to be left alone so they can make their untold millions? What a great entry point for the empathy of the audience. None of these characters grow, change, learn, or even seem to reflect recognizable emotions beyond venom-filled anger. The villainous government stooges act shady, plotting the downfall of those laudable titans of industry, but it all just becomes indistinguishable chatter, villains clucking to themselves.
Set in the near future of 2016, this adaptation feels strangely dated, most notably in its ascent of railroads. There's some ham-handed throwaway line about the cost of gas being so high so America just reverted back to the good old locomotive. I find this deeply implausible. It would have made more sense to actually make this a 1950s period piece, the original setting of Rand's novel. We're constantly told about the instability in the world via newscasters and announcers, but we don't ever see the effects of this world in crisis. Mostly that's because we're hobnobbing with the rich in their boardrooms and cocktail parties, but there's a scene where Dagny exits her limo and walks in a huff down the streets, which are empty of those dirty hordes of bottom-dwellers we've been hearing about. Apparently a world in crisis has done little to upset the disadvantaged, or the cities have just been very adamant about cleaning up the riffraff. The world depicted does not seem realistic. Would the country so easily go back to train travel where Dagny's super train can cross 200 miles in a single hour? What about international freight and travel? I guess that still has to run on all that precious petrol. I'd assume that by 2016 the world will still be an interdependent, globalized economy, so I would think that the United States would face more dramatic tension than the oversight over a railroad company.
I've noticed that when it comes to a mostly conservative, mostly Christian fan base, the quality of movies is almost irrelevant. Movies like Left Behind, The Omega Code, Fireproof, or the recent Courageous are not expected to be good movies by traditional standards. They are sermons packaged in the guise of popular entertainment, which means that the artistic particulars come second to the message, and often do. Atlas Shrugged seems to fall into this same category. The production is very low budget, hence all those conversations in offices, and the CGI that is utilized looks pretty chintzy. The acting is profoundly bad, with Schilling (TV's Mercy) giving a flat, monotone performance throughout, closer resembling a well-dressed mannequin than a human being. She is a horrible actress, resembling a bug-eyed Botox addict who has forgotten the correct muscles to express emotion. And naturally subtlety goes out the window in favor of reconfirming the belief system of the people buying the tickets. I have no issue with movies that adhere to an ideology, whatever that may be, as long as the message doesn't get in the way of telling a good story. Atlas Shrugged is not a good story, not even close, and the message can be all too bludgeoning at times, like when Dagny incredulously remarks, "What's with all these foolish altruistic notions?" The movie seems to be bristling with anger and many a character spits venom at the very idea of government involvement, unions demanding safe working conditions, and regulation in any form, red meat for the Tea Party faithful. Without that red meat, or the film's strident message, there would be no reason to watch this mess.
And now I'll shed my objective reviewer cap briefly to get on my own little soapbox and denounce the dangers of Randian politics. To be fair, I've never read an Ayn Rand book and honestly have no inclination of ever reading one of this woman's polemics. I just feel I have better uses of my time than reading a justification for sociopathic greed. Rand's extreme philosophy has been described as reverse Marxism, wherein the social elite is being sucked dry by the lechers of the world, those who do not contribute to the value of society. And for Rand the only value is money. The world, Rand posits, would be a better place if man would only think of himself. I fundamentally disagree with this notion. Remember that part in the bible where Jesus gives money to the rich and tells the poor to suck it up? Rand's self-involved philosophy seems like a round of consumerist Calvanism, rehashing a skewed religious perspective that was popular with the upper classes because it provided celestial reasoning why the rich were so rich and the poor were so poor. You see God wanted you to be rich, that is why you were born into a wealthy family, and he wanted all those miserable poor people to suffer. To help out the poor would therefore be blaspheming God's infinitely unknowable plan. The basic plotline of Atlas Shrugged, though only teased in Part One, is that the rich will get tired of being burdened by societal constraints and up and leave us all. Here's a good question: if all the billionaires in the world were to vanish, do you think everything would grind to a halt? Would we all be so out of luck without the super wealthy telling us what to buy? It's like the reverse of 2006's social satire A Day Without a Mexican, proposing that the American economic engine would be severely stalled if all the undocumented workers were to vanish. Under Rand's narrow line of thinking, the rich are that way because they are the best and brightest, the innovators. Nowhere in that equation does Rand leave room for the rich being rich due to lies, cheating, nepotism, and rigging the system for the continued benefit of a select few. I'm not meaning to begin a screed here, but I think the 2008 economic meltdown proved what happens when business is left to regulate itself. The economic collapse also proved that just because you've got some letters in your title (CEO, CFO, etc.) does not mean you're the smartest egg. Cronyism and a scoiopathic desire to look out for one's self-interest above all else is what brought the world on the brink of economic collapse. For me, recent history is a rejection of Rand's theories, not corroboration. Okay, soapbox put away.
Atlas Shrugged the film seems almost like an unintended ironic statement on Ayn Rand's belief of the superiority of the individual. That's because movies are a profoundly collaborative medium, where many hands toil away to create a work of art. It is not the result of one man or woman but the results of hundreds of men and women working together, each knowing their role, playing their part, and working toward something greater than individual self-interest. Huh, how about that? It pretty much doesn't matter that Atlas Shrugged is a powerfully boring, braying, incoherent, tedious chore that is merely a message disguised as a movie. The intended audiences will more than likely hail the final product, ignoring "details" like the talky exposition-heavy dialogue, horrible acting, laughable special effects, and plodding pacing, and overall poor production. The Rand faithful are not going to this movie to be entertained, they are going to see their beliefs reflected upon the big screen. The overall quality of Atlas Shrugged is an afterthought to them. I just wish it wasn't an afterthought to the people making the movie.
Nate's Grade: D
There is merit to Ayn Rand's philosophy. She raises many interesting points, ideas, and concepts of which I can't discuss in this review because I haven't read her novels, and to discuss her philosophy would require it's own review. But I can say that this film does not do it justice. For one, it breaks the first rule of filmmaking, which is never just film talking heads. This whole movie is boardroom meeting after boardroom meeting. There are no shots or scenes of the main characters immersed or reacting to the environment around them, which according to the story is supposed to be crumbling.
The dialogue is a joke. Every scenes will end in a victor for the good guys. The bad guys will say some threatening remark to which the good guy will say a profound statement - pretty much summarizing an ideal or theme where the music will cue and that good character will walk away. The actors do what they can. Unfortunately with scenes staged as they are, they can't do much accept sit down, talk, and walk away.
Atlas Shrugged Part 1 fails as a film. If Rand's books are meant to spark debate and discussion, this film simplifies her work to the point where it's barely a philosophy but a collection of unexplored, underdeveloped ideas. Dagny Taggart may work her ass off, but very little work was put into making this a movie to care about.
When I saw this in the theater, there was only one other middle-aged couple there. They were sitting pretty close to me, so I could hear some of their pre-feature conversation. I caught the word "liberals." Now, out of context, I have no idea what they could have been talking about, but since I had read some negative reviews of this movie, criticizing Ayn Rand's conservative ideology (instead of the film's merits or lack thereof), I assumed the couple may have been commenting on how few liberals would come see this movie.
This was confusing to me because my take-away of Ayn Rand's ideal capitalism is neither conservative nor liberal. It's humane. Atlas Shrugged is one of my favorite books, and it's not because I don't like helping people or I'm greedy and corrupt or I have no soul (well, maybe); it's because Dagny Taggart is all about working hard, fucking hard, making money, and taking pride. I mean, life's obviously not that simple, but a fictional female character who does all that AND can walk on railroad tracks in heels is enough for me.
Rand's concept of "greed is good" isn't about taking what's not yours. You take what you make, so you better make all that you can. Looters who have no aptitude or ambition but dare to sit on their asses and wait for hand-outs can shove it, and those are the people Dagny won't help. She respects work. She respects ability. She doesn't respect unearned entitlement.
As I have learned from a rather extensive economics lesson from Flixster Super Reviewer, Jim Hunter, Rand's staunch capitalism does indeed gibe with conservative economic ideology in terms of deregulation, but she wouldn't sympathize with talking-head politicos who simply co-opt her ideas without considering work and achievement. Liberals hear conservative media mouthpieces and automatically associate Rand with "fuck you - got mine" rhetoric. It seems that neither side of our political spectrum gets her.
As for the movie, I liked it well enough because I'm in its target audience. As a low-budget, non-Hollywood production, it's quite adequate in terms of performances, cinematography, and costume design. Taylor Schilling plays Dagny with spirit and guts. Her beauty is cold, and her mouth is indeed sensual (as described in the book). She's blond not brunette, but it works. Her last guttural scream upon seeing the burning wreckage of Wyatt's oil fields shook me to the core. That whole sequence of her running up to the fire, underscored by Galt's monologue is an excellent set-up for Part II.
The burden of condensing this mammoth book is evident though. The screenplay is a bit episodic and doesn't spend enough time developing the attraction between Dagny and Hank Reardon - one of intellectual and carnal equals - and as such, Hank's adultery isn't quite as justifiable as in the book...not that adultery is justifiable, but if anyone can do it, it's Ayn Rand. Also, the choice to set this story in the near future is awkward. Who rides trains anymore?
This is a film for a select audience comprised of fans of the book and people who think that Glenn Beck is the second coming. I only fit into one of those categories, and because I pick and choose the elements of Rand's philosophy that appeal to me, I was able to find things to like about Johnansson's low-budget, but passionately made, adaptation.
I thought that Schilling was a passable Dagny and all of the crony hacks she fights against were well-cast. The early incorporation of Galt as a mystery man was also a nice touch. Most importantly, it was good to revisit these characters and to see them embodied.
However, Rand's characters are purposefully stoic, and without access into their inner monologues, they don't play well on film. Also, it's never implied in the film that these characters delight in work. Taking her cue from Aristotle, Rand says that excellence in one's pursuits is man's highest goal. So, when Rearden leaves sex with his frigid wife in order to work, we're supposed to understand that his reasons stretch beyond his wife's attitude and frigidity. This glory of work and achievement is absolutely necessary to understanding Rand's philosophy, for which the film is a vehicle, and I don't think the film adequately communicates this.
I get a lot of flack from my fellow liberals for liking Rand. They say that she is the basis for the Tea Partiers and that she dichotomizes simplistically. In typical Rand fashion, I'm not too concerned with who else likes the same philosophies that I do, and the fact that I pick and choose what about Rand I choose to embrace allows me separate myself from the Tea Party and retain my liberal credibility. When Rand is criticized for her dichotomies, I think people are forgetting that Atlas Shrugged is less concerned with a typical story/plot and more concerned with communicating a philosophical ideology. Plato and Hume immediately come to mind as other philosophers who wrote in dialogues with characters representing other paradigms. Rather than criticized, Rand should be complimented for making her characters more round than her predecessors. The bottom line is that almost all philosophers and political parties are trying to make the world a better place; they just have different ideas about how.
Ignore the critics. They're totally missing the point. Yes, the budget for this film is rather low, and the most well known people here are a couple of Coen Bros. players, but ya know what? Who cares? The film looks great. Yeah, it probably deserves a massive budget, but it's not likely the studio system would be willing to do it...and that's unfortunate.
The film is a little rough, and I had some gripes about the framing looking off, but aside from that, this film has me intrigued and wanting more...in a good way. It would have been better had it been a period piece like the book, but i get why they updated it for modern times. Also, not knowing the source matrerial, I also pretty well got the gist of things.
The performances are good, and yes, Schilling and Bowler are supposed to play wooden, stilted characters (my friend told me this). I liked the noirish mystery aspect, and the capitalist robber baron stuff had me surprisingly hooked the whole time. It could have been longer of course, but hey, this is better than nothing. Give this a chance.
Admittedly, I am a sucker for dystopias, especially those where the main form of transportation is via train. And "Atlas Shrugged: Part 1" does use that plot device to neatly update from the past to the current near future. Weirdly enough, this political movie is set at the time of a Presidential election(my money is on Cuomo vs. Christie, by the way) without mentioning one at all, taking the easy route to try to implicate Obama in all of the world's sins. For the record, regulation is meant to save business from its worst impulses, like insuring that tracks are replaced more often than once a hundred years, even as I think regulating the size of soft drinks is more than a little silly. If only shaky politics were the worst of this movie's sins, it would not be so bad, but alas it is, seeped in talky amateurism and animatronic acting that includes even the veteran character actors in the cast.
Atlas Shrugged the film however, holds the production value look and feel of a TV movie on Lifetime or Soap. Obviously much money was saved by going with a third-tier cast. Sure, a few faces are recognizable, but what is lacking is screen presence. This is a story of corporate holy-mavericks versus the big time government sleaze-bags. Neither side is powerful enough to generate sufficient heat, friction or conflict worthy of the fabulous source material. The special effects of the initial run on Rearden Metal had some nice moments, but with so much back story lacking, it is really difficult for those who have not already absorbed the book to understand what exactly is transpiring.
Taylor Schilling plays the heroin Dagny Taggart and Grant Bowler as Hank Reardon, both comprise the most scenes. I didn't find much chemistry between them, not to mention I didn't see much exertion from either of them. These are supposed to be two very strong and intelligent people. As they say their lines, they give the impression of not understanding the words being said; poor efforts regrettably. Matthew Marsden as Dagny's brother James does not possess the acting chops to pull off this difficult and crucial role. On the other hand, Jsu Garcia had the presence to nail the crucial Francisco D'Anconia character, though it was still not enough showing the fresh incompetence from this cast.
The independent producers have stated that parts two and three are contingent upon a strong showing from this opening act. Alas, I doubt the Rand followers will see the film multiple times and the weak production value makes me doubt whether anyone "new" will discover it. Ayn Rand's words, controversial as it is, always make me think. I shudder to think what her reaction to this would have been after fighting so many times to have the film made her way. In the end, Atlas Shrugged the film unfortunately is ordinary; conflicted especially to those who have not read the novel and a straight to TV-looking disappointment. There aren't too many novels that are twelve-hundred pages strong; Rand's novel is one of them. It deserved better than this after so many years. The decision to place the film five years in the future and then shoot it like it's still the 1950's makes for an odd look. Additionally, the shadowy John Galt figure seems stilted and amateurish just like the film itself. I will state unequivocally that if you are to choose between seeing this movie and reading the book, choose the book. Just make sure you have no problems in reading preachy political theories.
** out of 4 stars
The film certainly opens strong, flaunting fabulous cinematography and intense score - generic though, it may be -, as well as sharp editing and extremely clever concepts, and just like that, you're hooked. After that, however, most everything, except the pretty awesome score - even if it is fairly generic -, goes south, only to pick back up on the rarest of golden occasions, particularly the final act (The dreaded final "Noooooooo!" stinger notwithstanding), yet what keeps you with the film, even with all of its countless mistakes, is the fact that its concepts are quite promising. Sure, the path to evil is paved with good intentions, so this film remains an absolute mess, but its concepts and ideas are genuinely fascinating and engaging, creating some degree of charm that goes ameliorated by, of all things, the mediocrity of it all. The film isn't mean-spirited; it's just incompetent, with its heart still in the right place enough for the film to mildly compelling. Still, make no mistake, this is some clear-cut incompetence, sometimes on a soap opera level. The film is drenched in artificial, soapy intrigue, and while the film's good intentions make it some mild degree of engaging, at the end of the day, the film never really goes anywhere, because its tension and intrigue feels so incompetently-handled and rings false. Still, there are points where you don't care if it is artificial; just as long as you get some kind of intrigue, because this film will slow down like crazy in some parts.
The film is very dialogue-driven, and while there are a good couple of parts where things kick in sharply enough to wake you back up, on the whole, this is dull repetition, and to make matters worse, the dialogue that this film is very much driven by doesn't seem to have enough gas to make it to the better side of town. Sure, the writing, as a whole, isn't that strong, being riddled with melodrama, as well as unbelievable characters and situations, but really, what hurts the most has to be the cheesy, soap opera dialogue, only without the usual so-bad-that-it's-kind-of-funny snap. Of course, as messy as the dialogue is, that doesn't mean that its delivery has to be bad, and yet, there are still plenty of poor performances all throughout this film, with a guy I just have to mentioned beng this guy, Edi Gathegi, who I will give some credit for dropping that surrealistically deep Kenyan accent, even if it did sound like he was struggling a bit (He was the Haitian cab driver in "Crank", just to give you an idea of how hard it must have been for him), but the boy shows up to every scene with no real presence or humanity; just an overly stern tone in his voice that's just plain embarassing. Still, his character is a secondary one, and the people we need to worry about the most are the leads, few of whom are terribly terrible, but when the bad get bad, oh boy do they get ugly, particularly Matthew Marsden, whose major James Taggart character is written to be one with a deep aura of mystery that leaves you wondering just what kind of person he truly is, yet Marsden just does not deliver on any layer and falls flat on any kind of presence or emotion, leaving the tension that relies so heavily on him to come crashing down with his performance. Much of the same can be said about Taylor Schilling, who, with all of her woodenness and dry presence, is mediocre at best, tainting the film and further driving down its compellingness, along with many other things. Yeah, I know that it sounds like I'm gearing up to fully pan this film, even with my compliments, but again, it has its moments and isn't at all truly mean-spirited at heart. Still, in the end, there's nothing in this film that we you haven't seen before and done immensely better, which isn't to say that there's not some degree of disappointment that this film couldn't have been better.
At the end of the tracks, the film doesn't crash, held back by a few decent moments, as well as consistently good intentions and concepts, yet the final product still betrays those promises with many a moment of dull repetition, made all the worse by weak dialogue, which, in it of itself is made all the worst by boderline across-the-board stale performances, particularly by our very own leads, for goodness' sakes, ultimately leaving "Atlast Shrugged: Part I" to, maybe not crash, but still fall too flat and too hard to go completely redeemed by its moderate charm.
2/5 - Mediocre
Also, each of the movies in the series had a completely different cast.
The problem that I have with Rand is that a lot of her views do not hold up to public scrutiny. A lot of the reason the American economy is in the mess it is in is because of the financial deregulation pushed into being by Clinton & due to Globalized capitalism. Getting rid of the Glass-Stegall Act was one of the biggest blunders in American history. The tide of history is actually against Rand. Plus, there is also inconsistency in what she believed. If you live in her "world" a small amount people would control society like an absolute oligarchy. Which is what the US is turning into now. That elite group of people is similar to the elite that control socialist nations.
Rand is misguided because 70% of the fortunes are inherited in the US. The upper 1 % controls 70 % of the nation's money. Big problem. Her definition of the "best people" is ridiculous.
Being objectivist as Rand would put it: the film does bring up many good points of government over reaching. But many of the theories of the film are misguided. I do lean in a conservative direction on a marginal level, but this film is written for the radical Libertarian crowd of people. The film is entertaining & clever but not a great movie. A few points about Rand before I end this review. She was married to rich men her whole life. She also was not born in the US & makes assumptions about the American capitalist system that are not completely reality. As far as I read, she was on welfare late in life when her writing career went down the drain. She also supported voluntary taxation & no white collar crime laws. A good writer but a very misguided woman. But the film is worth seeing.