Atlas Shrugged, Part 1

A few brief thoughts on Atlas Shrugged, Part 1, which my wife and I saw on Saturday.

In short, it was good -- not great, not terrible.

The best part of it was probably the cinematography. The scenes were generally at least as visually compelling and interesting as they were rhetorically (i.e. based on the words of the characters) interesting.

The acting was also good enough. You never felt like "I'm watching an actor", though you were also never blown away by a potentially Oscar-winning performance.

My reaction to the movie was less the great appreciation for the productive members of society (though to be fair, that aspect of the story develops more later in the book and, with luck, in parts 2 and 3 of this movie series) and more a disgust for "progressive" redistributionist government and for crony capitalism.

As far as the characters and actors, Taylor Schilling does a nice job as Dagny Taggart. Although perhaps a little younger than I would have pictured from the book, she basically carries off Dagny's intensity and determination. To the extent that Schilling's performance was a little flat in spots, I think it was more a question of an inexperienced director than an actress who isn't up to doing a great job.

Similarly, I found little to fault in Grant Bowler's portrayal of Hank Rearden, and Rebecca Wisocky's performance of his loveless wife, Lillian, was right on target.

The one bit of casting which I think threw quite a few readers of the book was Matthew Marsden as James Taggart, Dagny's politically scheming and basically incompetent brother. Marsden's acting is good. The question is that he appears so young, perhaps early 30's, that it just quite seem to fit with the perception that most of us had going into the movie of an older, more established, more "good old boy" sort of guy.  Anyway, that's not Marsden's fault and generally he plays the character well.

Michael Lerner, one of the most established actors in the cast, does a solid job as ultra-bureaucrat Wesley Mouch, essentially the key face of villainhood in this part of the story. Mouch, working with others, devises rules and laws intended to hamstring the most capable and competitive in society using broad like "for the broader good."  Another gov't functionary gives a similar viewpoint when he suggests that there is no company's profits he wouldn't be willing to sacrifice for the broader benefit of the nation, obviously completely unaware of the unsustainability of such a policy.

Similarly, other actors with smaller parts are people you've seen around before, such as John Polito as Orren Boyle and Patrick Fischler as Paul Larkin, and they all do a good job.

Atlas Shrugged, Part 1, was made in just over a month on a budget of roughly $10 million (because it went over budget.) Given that, the movie is actually rather remarkable.

Because of constraints of time -- they had to make a movie fast or producer John Aglioloro was going to lose the film rights -- they probably didn't have the best writer or director for the film, using a writer (in addition to Aglioloro) whose primary experience was with co-producing horror films and a director whose primary experience is television acting.

They did a good job, but there is also plenty of room for improvement. If Mr. Aglioloro, who is funding the production himself (as I understand the situation) has more time to make the next two parts of the intended 3-part series, I'd hope that (despite the loyalty I'm sure he feels) he trades up in quality of writer and director.

The primary feeling that I walked out of the movie with was a hatred -- and I don't use that word as hyperbole -- for our current administration in Washington, DC. The Obama Administration, particularly with the exclamation point of President Obama's Wednesday speech, is the real-life expression of all the political destructiveness and evil (and I don't use that as hyperbole either) which Ayn Rand was predicting and warning against with her novel.

Whether it's Barack Obama himself, or his many czars or his Secretary of This or Secretary of That, we're living under a tyranny of dozens or hundreds of Wesley Mouch-es. Obama, despite his cries to the contrary, does both dislike and take for granted the productive members of society. He, like Mouch, sees them as little more than sources of money for him to redistribute to others who are not "fortunate" enough to be successful.

I'm looking forward to Atlas Shrugged, Part 2, while hoping that it makes some improvements over Part 1. Despite that, I'm glad I saw Part 1, and I'm extremely grateful to Mr. Aglioloro for risking his own money to finally turn one of the most important novels in history into a film.

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