Review of "Atlas Shrugged Part 1"

First, I'll present my shameless plea:  PLEASE go to see this film in theaters--you will not be disappointed!  It is a great  adaptation of a well-loved book, and even viewers who have not read, or even heard of, Atlas Shrugged  will enjoy the movie.  Because it is independently produced and distributed, it depends on word of mouth to generate buzz.

After 54 years, Ayn Rand's famous and bestselling book Atlas Shrugged (more than 7,000,000 total copies sold, and more than 500,000 copies sold in 2009) has finally been made into a motion picture.  After Hollywood studios declined for decades to adapt this influential book into a film, producer John Aglialoro and director Harmon Kaslow have brought an independently produced and distributed version to the big screen.

Fans of the novel and followers of Rand will not be disappointed.  The story translates well to a modern setting.  Indeed, the events of the story display an eerie resemblance to current events. Aglialoro and Kaslow were committed to being faithful to both the themes and the story presented in the novel, and paralleled the book's division into three parts;  the film which opened April 15, 2011 is titled Atlas Shrugged: Part 1.  Parts 2 and 3 are being planned for release in April 2012 and April 2013. 

Having read this book only about 1 1/2 years ago, and combined with the current economic situation in the United States, the themes and ideas of this story have been on my radar a lot lately.  I will give you my first impression of the film in three words:  I Loved It.

First, the script was adapted quite well from the novel.  Anyone who has picked up a copy of Atlas Shrugged will remember its daunting thickness.   And everyone who has ever watched a film adaptation of a favorite book knows that not every word can be incorporated into a script.  But screenwriters Aglialoro and Brian Patrick O'Toole successfully incorporated many story-framing details in the opening sequence and the first few scenes.  You hear newscast sound bites, see newspaper headlines and video clips, and overhear conversations that establish the desperate economic situation.  Other visual details help set the back story; for example, I noticed right away that there were no cars driving on the streets, while people are shown riding the subway and double decker passenger trains;  viewers find out this is a result of  gas prices that are over $37 per gallon. 

In a story with literally dozens of characters in integral roles, the filmmakers did a good job of identifying characters and getting the audience acquainted with who is on what side.  For example, James Taggert, Orren Boyle and Wesley Mouch are often seen together.  The first scene with Hank Rearden's wife Lillian, his brother Phillip and his mother immediately establishes the loathing they have for Hank, and the reluctant way he supports them.  Viewers are also rightly confused about the motives of Paul Larkin, who represents himself as a friend of Rearden, but who also benefits at Rearden's expense.

As for the main characters Dagny Taggert and Hank Rearden, they are well-portrayed as true thinkers, dedicated to working hard to improve the companies they run and at the same time disgusted with the "crony capitalism" embraced by those surrounding them and those in Washington D.C.  Hank Rearden is especially well played by actor Grant Bowler, who is immediately identifiable as the "good guy," yet still flawed and slightly unpredictable (allowing for the fact that many viewers will have already read the book).

The most pleasant surprise of the film for me was the portrayal of oil magnate Ellis Wyatt.  His character was forceful, sometimes gregarious, sort of a tough guy and always "filled the room."  The book never created this mental picture of Wyatt for me.

In regards to technical aspects of the film,  I have only a few minor things to mention.  In general, I thought the film was, literally, very dark.  I know this contributes to the somber mood of the film, but in some instances I felt I couldn't really read the characters' faces.  On the positive side, I enjoyed very much the scene of the first run on the John Galt Line, which included many stunning outdoor shots of the Colorado landscape (the film was partially shot in Colorado).  This was the brightest spot of the film for me, as Dagny and Rearden rejoiced in the success of the run, and it did cause me to become slightly emotional.

Other minor details regarding art direction:  Rearden's spartan office is filled entirely with furniture made of metal--I loved that touch, especially in contrast to his home, which is filled with lavish furnishings.   But why did the dinner table at Ellis Wyatt's house feature unmatched crystal?

Is this film exactly like the novel, word for word? No.  But that should not bother true fans of the story.  The main premises of the book--that government intervention purported to "save" the American economy is actually hastening its collapse, and that true producers of wealth and prosperity are exploited for the benefit of "moochers"-- come through loud and clear in the film. 

One of the scenes from the book that was noticeably absent in the film was the "morning after" scene between Dagny and Rearden at Wyatt's home.  In the film, he greets her with a warm kiss at the breakfast table, and they plan a little getaway.   In the book, Rearden, who feels the rational mind should reign over physical desires,  is rather disgusted with himself for succumbing to bodily pleasures, and admits such to Dagny.  She in turn admits that she doesn't care why he desired her, but she would welcome a continued physical relationship.  Hank's inner conflict between his mind and body contributes to his character development in the book, and overcoming the dichotomy is part of his journey toward his decision to "go on strike."  His belatedly admitted love for Dagny ultimately affects the relationship between Hank, Dagny, John Galt and Francisco D'Anconia.

My husband and I were both slightly disappointed that Francisco D'Anconia did not have any trace of a Spanish accent.  Maybe that is because we listened to the audio book, which did give him an accent, but it would have been a nice touch for a character that is supposed to be an international playboy of South American descent.

These omissions, however, are not enough to condemn the film.  Overall, it remains very faithful to the both the foundational story and the themes of Ayn Rand's original.   

The film ended with a great cliffhanger--Dagny's discovery that Wyatt has torched his own oil fields and abandoned his business.  It also leaves a lot of unanswered questions--who is convincing important business producers to retire and disappear?  who invented, then abandoned, the unfinished motor that could change the world? and who is John Galt?  All these questions made me, and I hope many other viewers, anxious to see the next installment: Atlas Shrugged: Part 2.

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