The inert, stiffly acted and heavy handed "Atlas Shrugged: Part 1," an attempt to get Ayn Rand's beliefs out to the multiplex masses, isn't very compelling and isn't nearly as bracingly provocative as it is no doubt meant to be.
If Oscars were given for sheer determination, then director Paul Johansson might find himself holding a golden statue. He has done what many over the last half century have tried and failed to do: bring at least part of Ayn Rand’s 1,100-plus page 1957 epic, “Atlas Shrugged,” to the big screen. Though, considering Rand’s fervent anti-government philosophy and staunch, man-against-the-state individualism, having his labor of love open on the day when taxes are due must feel a bit like the Academy Awards for Johansson already.
But it’s doubtful Johansson will find himself honored at next year’s Oscars. Conservatives might claim it’s because of liberal Hollywood bias and, even if there’s some truth to that, the other factor is that — as a film and as drama — the inert, stiffly acted and heavy handed “Atlas Shrugged: Part 1” just isn’t very compelling and isn’t nearly as bracingly provocative as it is no doubt meant to be.
It’s 2016 in an alternative retro-future where everything has the look of mid-20th-century modern, the Internet apparently was never invented (people still read papers!), and trains are how goods get from coast to coast. Society is on the verge of collapse, largely, it is proposed, because of the jackals of conformity and mediocrity who are baying at the heels of creative, wealth-producing entrepreneurs like railroad head Dagny Taggart (the charismatic Taylor Schilling, TV’s “Mercy”) and metals tycoon Henry Rearden (New Zealander Grant Bowler, “Ugly Betty” and “True Blood”).
Together they have a plan to revolutionize rail travel, but the government and its lackeys try to squash it. Meanwhile, a mysterious figure is behind the disappearance of other pioneers like Dagny and Henry. Where they’ve gone will no doubt be answered in the sequels, assuming there are any.
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The filmmakers probably see their “Atlas Shrugged” as a way to get Rand’s beliefs out to the multiplex masses. But with little chemistry among the actors and stilted conversation the main source of action, “Atlas Shrugged” will have a hard time appealing to all but the Rand faithful.
While their numbers may be enough to turn the relatively low-budget “Atlas Shrugged: Part 1” into a success — the book remains a perpetual best-seller — anyone else interested in what Rand had to say is better off reading her rather than seeing this.