Atlas Shrugged

Posted by Marc Hodak on April 26, 2011 under Movie reviews |

Unlike Ayn Rand, I will quickly get to the end of the story:  if you are an Atlas fan, or at least someone with strong libertarian sympathies, you will probably like this movie.  You will think the screenplay was a reasonably faithful adaptation of the novel, and may even appreciate the degree to which it wasn’t, leaving out as it did much of Rand’s clunky dialogue.  You will think the scenes were visually rich, and the characters were superbly acted.  You would be generous, forgiving, perhaps charitable, in your critique.

If you hate Rand, or what you think Rand stands for, then you are likely to be objective, unforgiving, even ruthless.  Being in a skeptical mode, you will notice the residual unwieldiness of the screenplay (you simply can’t purge Rand’s writing from her story).  You will think that the visuals are cheesy, especially against the standards of modern epics being made for ten times this film’s budget.  You will think the acting looked forced because acting generally looks forced when you’re simply not into the story, and you refuse to view this film with the suspension of disbelief that one might normally accord to a cinematic experience.

This simple difference in perspective is very likely why 85 percent of the people who saw this film liked it, and 95 percent of the professional critics hated it.  The degree to which critics hated it worse than the viewers like it may account for the legitimate flaws in this film, but more likely that difference is caused by the mismatch between the medium and the message.  Rand’s writing style is more Dostoevsky or Tolstoy than, say, John Grisham.  Turgid, Russian novels are her literary heritage, and something no sane, modern Hollywood producer would consider committing to celluloid.  I’m frankly amazed that producers Harmon Kaslow and John Aglialoro did as well with it as they did.

To paraphrase Mad Men’s Don Draper, “When a man walks into a theater, he brings his whole life with him.”  One can claim that they are only reviewing the film on its artistic merits, but reading their reviews and seeing the audience data, their protestations ring hollow.  At no time is that pretense laid more bare than when they compare the Atlas Shrugged movie unfavorably against the insipid 1949 production of The Fountainhead.  Gary Cooper couldn’t save that hulk.  Patricia Neal looked positively psychotic.  I contrasted that with Grant Bowler’s sharp performance as the uncompromising Hank Rearden, and Taylor Schilling’s compelling ice princess portrait of Dagny Taggart.  They were a pleasure to watch.

I’m not hopeful that this film will be a commercial success.  It may not really be good enough for that.  I’m certain it would offend Rand’s sensibilities, everything she stood for, really, for her fans to encourage others to see the movie to artificially boost its returns in the hope of getting the sequels done.  Ironically, if the film’s parts two and three get made, it will likely be for non-commercial reasons.  Could a true Objectivist live with that?

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