Thursday, May 24, 2012

A review of Atlas Shrugged - Part 1.

Cheap, subversive bastard that I am, I saw a DVD of last year's movie Atlas Shrugged at the public library and decided to pick it up.  It made me happy that not a dime of my money would end up in the filmmakers' pockets. I wanted to see it because I want to have an informed opinion about it.

For a man must have a code. Let me state things objectively, because the followers of Ayn Rand call themselves objectivists.

This is a really talky movie.  Boy, is there a lot of exposition.  Folks tells us what's going on instead of seeing what is going on, with tiny little hints of what's going on after the long explanations.

Showing what's going on is expensive and this movie was made on the cheap.  There are scenes that are pretty enough, but it moves slowly.

The heroes will be played by Thor Svensson and Priscilla Smith-Smythe-Smith. The villains are portrayed by Jewy Jewenstein.  There is a division of labor between the good guys and the bad guys.  Most of the bad guys are played by Jewish actors - Jon Polito is the major exception, but he is a stock weasel character actor for most of his career - and the heroes look very northern European. In real life, Ayn Rand was born a Russian Jew and many of her inner circle were Jewish as well, but that's not how they play it in the film.

A Randian hero (or heroine) is a person of honor and true to their word.  At least until a better deal comes along. Grant Bowler plays Henry Rearden, the maker of the bestest steel in the world.  The evil government breaks up his massive empire by passing a law that says no one may own more than one company.  He is forced to sell off his companies, including one sale to Paul Larkin - an Anglo enough sounding character played by Patrick Fischler, best known as the Jewish insult comic Jimmy Barrett on Mad Men.  Rearden immediately assumes Larkin will screw him over in business.

But Rearden is no hero.  He is married and he decides to screw Dagny Taggart, the typical Randian heroine.  She truly understands him, while his wife does not.  It's a minor detail that she is also younger and hotter than his wife.

We also have the heroic Ellis Wyatt, played by the sadly miscast Graham Beckel. Beckel was the fat, violent and corrupt cop Dick Stensland in L.A. Confidential, but we are supposed to see him as another good guy.  He betrays Rearden and Dagny and destroys his profitable business because, yes you guessed it, a better deal came along.

Staying true to the source material, there are no funny scenes in Atlas Shrugged, the movie.  A friend gave me the book to read about twenty years ago.  I didn't get very far.  I've read more stylistically satisfying stereo set-up instructions.  In the movie, no one is given a sense of humor.  There is a scene where Rearden, Dagny and Wyatt are seen dining and enjoying themselves, but the overbearing musical score drowns out any dialogue.  Given the level of the dialogue, this was likely a blessing.

The future (2016) according to the filmmakers is a strange place indeed.  Here a few jarring problems with this future that looks a lot like the present.
  • There is no Internet, or at least our protagonists have no idea how to use it.
  • No rich person has any personal security, not even someone to answer the door at their swanky home.
  • All rich people do all their own investigations, never thinking of hiring a professional or someone who might know how to (gasp) use the Internet.
  • Science is magic.  Rearden steel is so very much better than any other kind of steel that it might as well be adamantium, the super-special metal from the Marvel universe used in Wolverine's claws. It should be remembered that Rand writes in the era of some heroic constructions, both publicly and privately funded, though she would never admit that. We get the skyscrapers, the massive observatories and great bridges, but also in the era of those great leaps forward like fiberglass, asbestos and DDT.
  • The government is all-powerful, except when it isn't. When the government makes a law that no one can own more than one company, Rearden folds his hand like a weakling.  But he uses Rearden steel in his construction and we are told it is untested.  The government doesn't let people use untested stuff.  Someone writing the script should have explained that one better.

In short, I don't recommend the film, but if you can get it at your local library, give it a shot, if only to have an informed opinion.  This was only part one of the very long novel and the movie did not do well at the box office. There is an IMDB listing for Part Two, but it has a completely different cast. It is said to be released in 2012, but no release date is given there.  The filmmakers hope to release it before the election, but the fate of low budget films is tenuous at best. The fans of Rand's book are often derided as stunted adolescents, but they are not a market to be exploited like the actual adolescents who turned Harry Potter, Twilight and The Hunger Games into huge financial successes.  For people who love money as much as they do, they just don't seem to have the knack for making it. Ayn Rand would not be amused.


ken said...

Be sure to read the mouseover text; a commentary matched only by the Lord of the Rings quote you had a few months ago.

Matty Boy said...

Link fixed. Thanks for sharing, Ken.