April 16, 2011

Review: Atlas Shrugged Part I

I enjoyed the movie, but entertain no beliefs that it will win any awards. I found it choppy, mostly because the scope of the book covered years and a wide array of characters. When I read the book, I had a Lauren Bacall type of actress in mind for Dagny. Taylor Schilling has that look, but few modern actors have the gravitas of a Bacall who could say so much with just the cast of her eyes. I never liked the descriptions of Hank Rearden in the book because the blonde, tall, powerful portrait Rand wrote, along with his demeanor made him sound a bit nazi-like -- so I was pleased with Grant Bowler as a shorter, darker Hank. As for James Taggart, Matthew Marsden just didn't work for me: he was neither smarmy enough nor experienced enough nor lost-to-culture enough. The casting directory in my head would seek someone like Philip Seymour Hoffman or John Malkavich instead. But those cast performed their parts well. Perhaps Rebecca Wisocky as Hank's wife was the best cast. I'll withhold judgement on Jsu Garcia as Francisco D'Anconia -- his major parts are yet to come.

Sadly, as well, my favorite scene from Part I in the book, the successful maiden run of the John Galt Line, was turned into a rather boring montage of a model train running through barren terrain. In the book, the government threw countless barriers into the path of getting the John Galt Line built, including the false claim that Rearden Metal was dangerously weak. Dagny and Hank brought the Line into existence through their forceful wills and work ethic and they inspired not only the workers on the project, but the whole country. On the maiden run there was fear that the government would sabotage the train or the bridge but as the engine traveled on, people started appearing along the tracks cheering it on, holding guns aloft to show they had been protecting the track. More and more people cheered them on and it became a roaring crowd of success by the time they pulled to a final stop. Nothing like that appeared in the movie. I think something like ten people were shown at a brief distance, celebrating the train as it pulled into the station.

Another scene that affected me when reading the book that's missing from the movie is during the search of the 20th Century Motors factory site. The factory had fallen to ruin years ago (think Detroit) and the whole area around the old factory site was ill-serviced... water, power, govt. services had begun to fall away, leaving the residents to either flee, or survive in a kind of third world life. As I read the book, I found it a powerful reminder of how government and union policies can end up destroying industry and all of industry's attendant economic activity. Shops, stations, roads, etc. are kept in good repair while a factory is churning out goods because raw materials need to be supplied, goods shipped out, workers need to be housed and fed, their children educated. When they searched the factory in the book, the sadness of America's abandoned manufacturing sites filled the pages. None of those scenes were present in the movie... Hank and Dagny find the factory without encountering any of the surrounding population. Their search of the site is accomplished quickly and miraculously. Scenes that could have been powerfully rendered, scenes that hold a mirror up to what's happening in some areas of America, aren't even attempted.

As with other movies made from popular books (Harry Potter comes to mind), one of the nice things about the movie is that you're sitting in an audience of people who know and love the book and who want to love the movie. I think it will make money (what other measure of success could a movie of Atlas Shrugged desire?), if the size of a 2pm Friday showing is any measure. Hopefully, it will make enough of a profit for Part II to appear on Tax Day 2012.

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