Atlas Shrugged (Pt 1) – Review


Another supposedly “unfilmable” novel turns out to be quite filmable

Ayn Rand stumbled onto something powerful as she laid out her objectivist philosophy in her fourth and final book, “Atlas Shrugged.” One of the more widely read books in human history, “Atlas Shrugged” has influenced politicians and philosophers ever since its release. It was a book Hollywood had been trying to adapt into a film for almost 40 years, beginning when Rand first held final approval over a project that eventually stalled. With a who’s who of Hollywood attached to the film at some point, it’s rather interesting that one of the most successful novels of all time would end up on the indie circuit trying to find an audience.

The film, the first in a planned trilogy, takes place in 2016 in a world that bears a lot of resemblances to our own. Oil in the Middle East has stopped flowing due to wars and the country is in a massive economic depression as government controls everything, or tries to at least. Trains have become the leading source of transportation with the cost of oil sky-rocketing, effectively destroying automobile and airplane as viable means of transportation for the masses. This leads to problems for Dagny Taggart (Taylor Schilling), vice president of the family railroad business that bears her last name. Years of neglect have destroyed her lines and she has to do something drastic or else her biggest customer (Graham Beckel) is going to walk away, bankrupting the company.

Enter Hank Rearden (Grant Bowler), head of a company that is making a revolutionary type of metal that bears his name and will allow Taggart Transcontinental to thrive. Seeing government control ruin everything around them, Taggart and Rearden pool their talents to succeed in a world dedicated to providing equality of result as opposed to equality of opportunity. All the while one question keeps popping up as the world’s producers walk away from a society that won’t allow them to profit off their abilities:

“Who is John Galt?”

Atlas Shrugged is the beginning of a brilliant trilogy about two people finding something greater than themselves in concert with one another, relying on the chemistry between Grant Bowler and Taylor Schilling to carry the film. Both relatively unknown, the two have that rare connection together that keeps it interesting. Neither is brilliant in the film, far from it, but there’s something in how they work together that radiates off the screen. They are kindred spirits, united in purpose, and we can feel this early on. Dagny and Rearden share something powerful with one another; if Bowler and Schilling don’t provide this the film falls dead right then and there. Combined the two carry this film with chemistry as opposed to powerful acting, which could be a problem with two principle leads that don’t work well together. The problem is that this is just the start of a story and we’re left to ponder, as opposed to anticipate more of the story. But it looks beautiful.

For a film that had a relatively small budget, rumored to be around $10 million, the film looks rather remarkable. Paul Johansson, a first time director, has crafted a film on a technical level that is stunning to watch. With some terrific cinematography and outstanding scoring, the first timer has certainly brought aboard people who see his vision alongside Rand’s story and combine them wonderfully. This is a powerfully effective film in terms of how it uses the score and some crafty editing to turn up the inherent drama of the material. Atlas Shrugged works because Johansson, who hasn’t directed a feature film before this (just some television work and a short), knows where he’s going with the material and brings us there, slowly but surely. He’s a steady hand guiding a long and engaging story, building it up at the right pace with the right timing and tone. But there’s one problem with it: it’s only 1/3 of the story.

The film suffers because at this point it’s still incomplete. There’s no definite conclusion so far, if only because it’s the first third of a trilogy. It ends on a bit of a cliffhanger as opposed to a conclusion that gives us a glimpse of what to expect. The film ends with a pivotal moment in the book, ending the first third, and we’re left wanting more. Atlas Shrugged is a brilliant opening gambit in what could be a rather remarkable trilogy.

Director: Paul Johansson
Notable Cast: Taylor Schilling, Grant Bowler, Matthew Marsden, Graham Beckel, Jsu Garcia
Brian Patrick O’Toole based off the novel “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand