“Atlas Shrugged: Part I” was a movie very long in the making; not necessarily in the amount of time it took to shoot, but in the history behind the story.
Ayn Rand first published “Atlas Shrugged” — her fourth and final novel — in 1957. Rand considered it her greatest work in the realm of science fiction. Over the past 50-plus years, Rand’s novel has been a hot topic of debate between its many admirers and detractors.
There have been many adaptations in the works for decades, but over the years they all fell through for one reason or another. But now, with help from The Strike Productions and Rocky Mountain Pictures, we all have a chance to see this great work in theaters. Directed by Paul Johansson and with the screenplay written by Brian Patrick O’Toole as well as John Aglialoro, we have a top-notch team assembling a very complex story.
“Atlas Shrugged: Part I” is the first in a planned trilogy of movies, split into three parts just like the book. Part I weaves a tale of a not-so-distant dystopian United States. It’s 2016 and there are oil and gas shortages worldwide. There are international conflicts raging. With the price of gas being more than $30 a gallon, railroads and trains are the only affordable way to travel in a faltering economy. There are few independent corporations thriving outside of the ones endorsed by the government.
Taggart Transcontinental is one of those companies. It’s run by brother and sister duo James Taggart (Matthew Marsden) and Dagny Taggart (Taylor Schilling), who couldn’t be more different from each other. James has his own interests at heart and doesn’t care to do all of the work to keep the company going, while Dagny is busy finding alternative ways to keep the railways in proper working order. She goes to Hank Rearden (Grant Bowler), owner of Rearden Steel, to get the vital replacement railing she needs to get their line in Colorado working again. Dagny chooses to trust in Rearden’s new alloy, called Rearden Metal, which is a lighter and stronger metal than any other on Earth.
With jealousy rising among competitors, Rearden chooses to keep the formula to this new metal a secret and that makes him many enemies. With all of the cards stacking against them and the threat of government intervention looming, they make another ally in Ellis Wyatt (Graham Beckel), sole founder of the Wyatt Oil enterprise and the three of them are off on a quest to make history. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, there are many meetings by major players in the government and private corporations, all set to do what it takes to stop production of Rearden Metal and the rebuilding of the Colorado railroad by Taggart Transcontinental.
Taking a book that has amassed a growing popularity ever since it was first published and changing the setting from the 1950s to 2016 was a risky move, but it paid off in a big way. Setting it in our near future has re-established the story’s sense of importance. Although trains and railroads don’t seem as essential as they may have in the ’50s, it makes sense that they would be the logical choice for transportation if this alternate future reality were to occur.
And whether you are a believer or a skeptic in Ayn Rand’s philosophies and political views, it would be nearly impossible to deny that “Atlas Shrugged: Part I” is a moving and disturbingly-compelling film. With all of the chaos going on in this world, every trip across the United States serves as a reminder of the beauty of this country. With sweeping wide shots of many great states, you get a wave of beauty and hope. This cannot be denied.
The cast of actors assembled to bring this intellectually-stimulating story to life is impressive, with top-notch performances that move you. Taylor Schilling as Dagny Taggart is perfectly cast as a strong and independent woman — you believe in her performance as a renegade business woman among those who are willing to go with the flow. Grant Bowler as Hank Rearden is equally as impressive and is the flawless counterpart to Taylor Schilling’s Dagny. We have very few “good guys” in this film, but Graham Beckel and Edi Gathegi offer wonderful performances in their limited screen time.
Then, as is typical with a story about underdogs, we have a slew of actors portraying the antagonists, giving our hero and heroine problems. First among them is Matthew Marsden as James Taggart, the brother who isn’t seen as evil, more so egocentric and selfish in the way he handles situations. I personally didn’t hate the character, but I can see him growing into much more of a menace as the story progresses. Then, as the businessman out to betray Dagny and Hank, we have Patrick Fischler, a man out to see his own desires met, even if it involves betrayal. The film also stars Jsu Garcia, Michael Lerner, Nick Cassavetes, Ethan Cohn, Rebecca Wisocky, Neill Barry, Christina Pickles, Michael O’Keefe, Geoff Pierson and Armin Shimerman, with each contributing positively to the movie.
In addition, the score — by Elia Cmiral — added a great deal to the film. With just the right amount of danger and beauty in it, the music moves your emotions in tune with what’s happening in the story and truly provides the necessary pump of adrenaline necessary for any good thriller. Some people don’t notice things like music, and sometimes I don’t as much either, but when it is a truly great addition to any film, I cannot ignore it.
On the whole, I can imagine how difficult it must have been to condense a third of this massive book into a movie — it was difficult enough to do so in this review. This is a complex and intellectual movie that has many different plots and subplots involved, but I was able to keep pace with the movie and take it all in. Just like with last year’s “Inception,” this movie and story has multiple layers to it; there are many subplots and immense amounts of characters all with their own agendas. This film could be watched multiple times, uncovering new pieces each time.
Whether you have read the book or not, see yourself as a political intellectual or even just a fan of thrilling dramas, you are sure to enjoy the ride “Atlas Shrugged: Part I” takes you on. The fact that it has current importance to our society and where we could be heading is just another reason why I suggest you head out to your local theaters and participate in the experience that is “Atlas Shrugged: Part I.”
“Atlas Shrugged: Part I” opens in theaters April 15 and is rated PG-13 for sexuality.
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