Atlas Shrugged had an interesting conceit in 2011. It was a film made outside the studio system, after years of trying to get made within it, that couldn’t find a home. It posited some interesting concepts and looked like a professional film despite being made in the indie world. With a $20 million budget and a political environment that seemed poised to find an audience of substantive size. Unfortunately the first film in a planned trilogy based on Ayn Rand’s seminal masterpiece of libertarian political thought lost eight figures ($20 million in budget vs. less than $5 million in box office receipts). The film wasn’t received well, of course, but it didn’t find an audience either.
It seemed like our final images of Atlas Shrugged would be an almost iconic moment of Dagny Taggart (Taylor Schilling) watching as the oil fields of Ellis Wyatt burned in an act of protest. If the film had done the sort of business many had thought it could, based on it becoming a sort of “black swan” in theatres, this would’ve been a special moment in cinema. Unfortunately it wound up as being a great moment in an otherwise forgotten film that now might be the high point of an utterly pointless trilogy from a historical standpoint.
Against the wishes of the cinematic public the final two thirds of the planned trilogy have been completed and now the trilogy is complete. But as the film series has progressed the film quality has decreased substantially, as well as the overall budget, as the final film (Part III: Who is John Galt?) has been released into theatres. And even Rand wouldn’t like this one, as it’s a cheaply made film that limps its way to the finish line.
Rand saw the world as one where a living was one that was earned, not given, and the book was her statement on it. She by proxy rallied against large government and the corruption it causes, et al, and the book’s adaptation by Hollywood has been one of profound difficulty. It was seemingly unfilmable for a significant period of time and thoughts did turn of a mini-series on a premium network like HBO instead of the trilogy of films that have occurred. Rand viewed the future as a dystopia, where the government would regulate and take the earnings of those who produced for their own ends. She imagined a world where those of substance and means would be sustaining the lazy and the corrupt and she uses Dagny Taggart as her proxy. She was to explore this world where the government is too big and the innovators are sustaining those who view their production as theirs, with Galt as her mouthpiece for the politics of it all. The third act in the book is a speech of 70 pages, boiled down for the film into something cleaner and more effective.
The film has been almost entirely recast again as now Laura Regan steps into the shoes of Dagny, replacing Samantha Mathis. When we last left her she had crash landed into the new settlement of the talented few who had “gone Galt,” vanishing from society. They’re on strike, living in a society of their own choosing, led by the ubiquitous John Galt (Kristoffer Polaha). Dagny explores life in this little community, populated by people with their gripes in this oppressive dystopian society, and eventually returns to her native New York City to try and continue the good fight of reform. When she returns her railroad has been run into the ground by her incompetent brother (Greg Germann), who has sold their industry out to the government for control. She’s there to deal with the consequences. All the while Galt is in NYC to deliver a message of his own to the people, to inspire a revolt against the current system.
One of the problems with Part III is that it’s dinner theatre level bad in terms of production. This is a film that looked like a major Hollywood production on $20 million three years ago being reduced to looking like a bad TV movie with a cast seemingly picked for their ability to work cheap as opposed to talent. This is a film done on the cheap and it shows; for an indie film with a budget of substance like this film it shouldn’t look this terrible by comparison to other indie films of note that are in this same budget ($5 million). One half expects to see errors from the grindhouse era of film-making to pop on in occasionally.
The other problem of substance is that the film mistakes camp for high drama. This is a book that pushed the limits because it was trying to show the extremes of what she feared the most that has turned into a film that views it as a soap opera. It’s nearly high comedy on occasion and one expects a laugh track at certain points. The film is based off a book with a reductio ad absurdum style of thinking on Rand’s part, of course, but in application to the film it’s as if a soap opera writer imagined the most hilarious dystopian America and then used Rand’s book for the dialogue.
For the Breitbart crowd, Atlas Shrugged: Part III would’ve been the culmination of a grand trilogy if things had worked out like many thought it could. It actually turned out far worse than many thought it would, starting out fairly well for a film of limited means and winding up cutting everything out of note (and replacing nearly every role multiple times) just to finish.
Director: J.James Manera Writer: J.James Manera, Harmon Kaslow and John Aglialoro based on Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” Notable Cast: Laura Regan, Kristoffer Polaha, Greg Germann, Eric Allan Kramer, Joaquim de Almeida, Rob Morrow, Larry Cedar