- Bad characterization
- Unclear Plot
- Stiff Dialogue
- Awesome Costuming
Music: Chris P. Bacon
Cinematographer: Ross Berryman Editor: John Gilbert Based on the novel by Ayn Rand
I‘ve been looking forward to the film adaptation of Atlas Shrugged ever since I read Ayn Rand’s novel back in high school. I enjoyed Part 1 upon its release last November, but I didn’t leave the theater super-thrilled. When I learned that Part 2 would include a new director and cast my expectations rose — surely they had plans to take a so-so movie and elevate it to new and awesome heights, right? Right?
Wrong! I really wanted to enjoy this movie. I was so looking forward to writing a shining review. But I just can’t. There were a couple decent elements but not enough to soften the blow of what a let-down this movie was.
The story follows Dagny Taggart (Samantha Mathis), Operating Vice President of Taggart Transcontinental railroad line. She’s surrounded by a sea of incompetence and harmful government regulations as every day more and more talented businessmen mysteriously disappear.
In Part 1, we’re introduced to the puzzle of where all the good men (and women) disappear to. We meet some strong characters — namely Hank Rearden (Jason Beghe), a married steel industrialist whom Dagny develops feelings for, and oil tycoon Ellis Wyatt (Graham Beckel). Most of the controversy surrounding the novel stems from the fact that Rand used seemingly invincible upper-class indivduals as protagonists and needy poor people as antagonists.
Among the ranks of the incompetent are Dagny’s brother and president of the railroad Jim Taggart (Patrick Fabian), multiple congressmen who pass restrictive laws, and countless citizens who shirk responsibility. Another important character is Francisco D’anconia (Esai Morales), Dagny’s childhood friend, once a great man who seems to have made an unpleasant transformation into a spoiled playboy.
In Part 2, society continues to decline and the government proceeds to restrict the output from big businesses. Meanwhile, Dagny and a young scientist by the name of Quentin Daniels (Diedrich Bader) search for a solution to make an abandoned and partially-complete motor operate again. The motor, found in a closed factory, would run off of static electricity from the air and would be the big financial break the greatly-recessed nation needs.
Ever present is the enigmatic slang question, “Who is John Galt?”
It would take a horrible movie to completely destroy Rand’s underlying philosophy. Whatever its other flaws, Atlas Shrugged does stay true to the overall point of the book, something I’m sure fans will appreciate. It doesn’t try to soften what most consider to be a pretty extreme view, which is that money is a good thing and charity is a bad thing. Of course the money has to be well-earned – the rich in Rand’s ideal world are very deserving of their money and the poor not so much; the movie depicts this well. Even if you’re not very fond of the message, it’s still an interesting idea to consider.
Most notably, Dagny’s jewelry is fantastic! I’m sure it looks like I’m grasping at straws when I list her necklaces and dresses as a pro, but they are pretty stylish. And it’s not just the dapper rich folk who have the good costumes; everyone from Quentin, the slightly-geeky scientist, to the down-on-their-luck protestors are totally dressed for the part.
If the costuming and philosophy were spot-on, the overall personality portrayals were sub-par. In the book, Dagny was a super-powerful and competent, strong female lead. In the movie she comes off as a lost little girl. Francisco D’Anconia seems kind of sleazy rather than sexy and awesome, which is too bad because the book version of him is totally my fictional boyfriend. Jim Taggart was pretty spot-on, though.
Some of the actor changes between Part 1 and Part 2 were pretty jarring as well. Again, it’s mostly D’Anconia I have a problem with. In Part 1, Jsu Garcia plays the part and plays it well. Morales’s interpretation pales in comparison.
It’s really not the actor’s fault, but Edi Gathegi, who played Eddie (Dagny’s assistant) in the first film, and Richard T. Jones, who played him in the second, have two completely different body types. At least with Dagny, Taylor Shilling (Part 1) and Mathis look pretty similar. But this is pretty unsettling:
Partly the stiff-sounding dialogue was due to the attempt to convert what Rand wrote in the ’50s to a movie set in the future. The actors share in the blame as well. However, I think the main cause of the awkward dialogue was due to the director’s clumsy handle of the sequel. Since the Atlas movies are all based on separate parts of the same book, they don’t have the ability to stand alone as other sequels do.
Instead of having an intro sequence reminding the audience what occcured in Part I, Part II picks up where the first left off with no explanation. There was an unnatural amount of explanation whenever anyone mentioned an incident that occurred in Part 1. Instead of just, “Oh, the John Galt Line,” the conversations were along the vein of, “Oh, the John Galt Line, the one I had to overcome all that adversity to build with Rearden’s new metal that nobody liked at first.” The lines sounded the way I do when I get near the punchline of a joke and remember I left out something important and have to backtrack.
A Muddled Plot
Several important plot points were glossed over. It was like listing to a monotoned voice read a news blotter: There’s a railroad disaster, there’s a new unfinished motor, there’s a new government directive, Jim’s getting married. There’s no depth to any of it and no indication of what’s important and what’s detail. The plot’s also missing a good cause-and-effect relationship between actions and their consequences. New laws are passed and people protest them, but it’s unclear as to what everyone’s all worked up about. The movie never shows us things, it just tells us.
Overall Score: 2 Stars out of 5
Wait for this to come out on DVD, that’s if you decide to see it at all. There’s just not enough salvageable elements in this film to make it worth the ticket price. Also, make sure you rent Part 1 before you head to the theaters. If you fail to do so, chances are you’ll be completely confused about what’s going on and why you should care about the characters and events. Then again, even if you are prepared it’s still easy to watch this and be completely confused.
The dialogue is awkward, the characters aren’t true to the book, and plot elements aren’t handled well. The philosophy behind the story’s as interesting as it ever was, but it’s a passenger on a poor vessel.
’Atlas Shrugged: Part 2′ Trailer