I finally had the opportunity to see the film yesterday, two weeks after it opened. I actually bought tickets online twice, and was ultimately unable to go both times; I consider those tickets a contribution to the cause!
First: I am not a Randian Objectivist. If you don’t know what that is, it would be enlightening to find out. There are elements of Rand’s objectivist theories that I agree with, and some I do not; I consider myself conservative politically, leaning toward libertarian, though not as far as going to “Capital-L” Libertarianism. That’s not to say I won’t get there eventually, however.
Second, I’ve read Atlas Shrugged three times, and listed to the audiobook twice. I’ve studied sections of the book in greater detail, and mentioned parts of it here on the blog in the past. I’m not a Rand scholar, but I’ve been acquainted with the book for over five years and I think I have a pretty good idea what it contains. I like a great many of the philosophical points Rand brings up in the novel, but I do not agree with all of it.
Still, as you know if you have read my previous posts about the film, I had concerns about setting it in our near future, about doing it on a very limited budget, and with a very limited shooting time frame. Some of those concerns were, in my opinion, justified in the final result; but I was very pleased with the amount of Rand’s story and philosophy that made it to the screen.
Some of what is here includes spoilers for those who have not read the book or seen the film. Proceed at your own risk. There are no surprises in the book or film so great that finding out about them earlier would destroy your appreciation of it, however.
I’ve broken my review down into sections, and the teacher in me thought I should give grades. Some people hate that. My apologies to those folks. Here goes:
I understand from interviews I have read that most of the actors worked for minimums because they believed in the project and wanted to see it made. That’s wonderful, and I don’t believe a lack of a “name” actor made a difference here. We didn’t need to see Angelina Jolie play Angelina Jolie, we needed to see Dagny Taggart. John Wayne always was John Wayne, Clint Eastwood was Clint Eastwood; films were written to fit their personas, not the other way around. That’s why the Tom Clancy films starring Harrison Ford didn’t ring true to the books…Harrison Ford was playing Harrison Ford, not Jack Ryan.
Taylor Schilling was as good a pick for Dagny Taggart as I could imagine. She could bring off tough without being bitchy. She had a very difficult job. About a quarter of the book, or more, is inside the heads of the characters, especially Dagny’s, and there is no opportunity in the film for 250 pages of backstory and thought process. By virtue of her personality Dagny doesn’t talk out her feelings much, so it is difficult to communicate those to the audience. I felt Schilling brought it across at least without mixed messages, which was what I feared.
The casting of Rebecca Wisocky as Lillian Rearden was genius. She is Lillian, and I can’t wait to see how her evil, self-serving schemes are carried out in Parts 2 and 3. Similarly, Graham Beckel was delightful as Ellis Wyatt. From what I’ve seen of him, I’ll be he would have done it for free; he’s a staunch conservative and would do it just to aggravate his big brother, liberal nutjob Bob Beckel.
Michael O’Keefe as Hugh Akston is too young, but his part so far is small. He will be much more important later. I hope he can pull it off. Edi Gathegi plays Eddie Willers tougher than Eddie was in Rand’s book, but the backstory of he and Dagny being childhood friends is of course lost in the film, and Eddie’s character can take on a somewhat different and necessary role of gadfly to Jim Taggart. Matthew Marsden as Jim Taggart is not crazed enough, but hopefully he will be, soon…his destruction is one of those things most awaited by readers of the book.
Grant Bowler as Henry Rearden: he’s too short, he’s too young, but he’s fine other than that. He tends to deliver important lines too quickly and without enough emphasis. I don’t know if that was him or the director (Paul Johannson, who also is the semi-invisible John Gault). He plays unyielding well, though, and should be excellent should the trial scene be included in Part 2.
Here’s the big miss: Jsu Garcia as Francisco D’Anconia. He could be fine. He has absolutely no accent, which is unfortunate; a bit would give his character some depth. Again, without the Eddie-Dagny-Francisco teenage years backstory, we do not see Francisco as a good person, just as this silly playboy. The book makes it clear this was a remarkable transformation and descent for him, and we see none of that development. How could he have played it to bring that out? I’m not sure, but the scene he has with Rearden at the anniversary party should have given the director the opportunity to make the change in him more obvious, to show that the playboy is a shell persona. Otherwise, Henry has no reason to be interested in him at all. I don’t think it’s the actor, though it may be.
Could I have done better? Hell, no! Still, a few things bothered me. No mention of Eddie, Francisco and Dagny knowing each other when they were growing up I feel made it difficult to show the characters’ changes. The only thing Roger Ebert ever said that I agreed with was that you have to care about the characters, no matter what the film. This movie has to cover so much ground, and give us so much, that character development is very hard to pull off. I think in the long run it’s going to happen, but it’s tough to see right now.
Galt’s motor: I agree it’s important, but the hand-waving of the science is even worse here than in Rand’s novel. It might as well have been cold fusion. And the term they were hunting for was zero-point energy, I think, which is generated by the Casimir effect. The terms kept changing. That’s not what’s most important yet, anyway. Don’t dig a hole for yourselves with goofy syfy channel talk, guys!
Orrin Boyle’s character is never really explained. That will make those who never read the book scratch their heads.
Galt contacts Midas Mulligan on September 2, 2016, at the beginning of the movie. Yet in the book he and Galt are co-founders of the Gulch. Hmmm.
Gorgeous interior sets of the places where the rich live. Depressing street scenes, as required. Pretty decent CGI on the John Galt Line sequence, and the bridge was truly excellent! The laying of the track of the JGL was a nice touch, showing how it was updating old, worn-out track. The stock footage used for some exterior shots was incongruous. The communter train shown in one shot was a Chicago Metra train, with the name digitally erased. It was too easily identified, though.
The Wyatt Junction Bridge
The exterior of Rearden Steel was a CGI matte painting of what looked like a 1940s steel mill. The interior of the offices, and the interior shown behind the office windows, was state-of-the-art. Huh?
Camera work was generally excellent, Taylor Schilling is pretty dang photogenic, so she was easy to shoot, I would expect. The film was shot digitally and edited that way, but it doesn’t look cheap or thrown together. It has far better production values than a cable channel miniseries.
The Wyatt Oil fire sequence was cleverly shot to make maximum use of minimum extras. Good job there.
When Rearden and Dagny enter the 20th Century Motors factory, Rearden is recounting why the factory closed. It’s difficult to hear because it is too soft and he speaks too quickly. Please fix that for the DVD – it’s such an important point!
I admit, I’m prejudiced. I wanted this to be EPIC! I wanted Halley’s Fifth Concerto! Apparently Halley is not in the film at all, which is too bad…it was his music that gave Dagny the first clue something was going on behind the disappearances. The music was mundane. It didn’t detract from the film, but it didn’t help it much, either. Elia Cmiral is probably best-known for scoring “Ronin,” but most of his other work has been small-scale film. I suppose he worked for less money. Perhaps he too believed in the project, and in that case I salute him, However, his music was pretty forgettable. Luckily, there was no underscore under most of the dialog and so rather than taking it in a wrong direction, the score was neutral.
Overall, I liked the film very much. I think it was a very ambitious effort, and I applaud all those who worked so hard to bring it to completion. I hope they can complete the other two sections of the story, so those who never read the book can know what it is about…and why it is just as important today as it was in the 1950s.
Dagny Taggart and Henry Rearden