It’s hard to make a rich man sympathetic as he battles the forces of evil from the marbled halls of palatial mansions. But the screen adaptation of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged does it. At the apparent climax of the movie, there’s a stand up and cheer moment as the stars – Industrialist Henry Rearden (Grant Bowler) and Dagny Taggart (Taylor Schilling) – literally speed in a train to victory over a foolish, conniving, and good-ideas-squelching government in Washington.
Rearden has developed a new metal that is stronger and cheaper than any before it. To get it out fast in order to repair the country’s deteriorating railroad supply lines needed to ease the economic depression, he has set up a chain of companies. One by one, self-serving lawmakers, aided by lobbyists, threatening union leaders, sycophantic journalists and myopic do-gooders, outlaw Rearden’s companies in the name of monopoly busting “for the people” until he’s down to the original parent. Despite their efforts to buy and bully him, he won’t yield.
It’s mine, he tells the smarmy scientist leading the effort in the press to undermine him with poorly substantiated stories that the metal is a safety hazard and unfair to workers, and who has been designated to deliver a blank check from Washington for Rearden if he’ll sell out. The company is his, objects Rearden, not the government’s to take away and screw up. The metal is good. It will help the country. If the scientist can prove it isn’t good, he might reconsider. The scientist can’t. He’s the real sell out.
Equally threatened is Dagny Taggart, owner of a railroad company which has suffered a rail line disaster, magnified in the press, and hopes to use Rearden’s new metal to repair deteriorating tracks and get the trains running again. She could lose everything if she doesn’t act fast. She’s a strong, take-charge heroine with integrity who is battling even her own weak brother to make things work. It will be interesting, given the movie’s conservative message of individual freedom and entrepreneurship as a productive aspect of our society, to see how feminists will react. Taggart’s character is as strong and purposeful as Rearden’s, although perhaps a bit single-minded for some women movie-goers. I’ll bet the feminists hate her – which will be one more indication of their hypocrisy.
This is a good movie, not a great one – and better than much of the modern faire Hollywood puts out. In fact, one wonders how, with the reportedly low budget it had, the makers were able to get such a lush look. The cast is good, although some of the villains are over the top. The pace is excellent. What is particularly gratifying is to see industrialists and businessmen, the producers of wealth in our capitalistic society, exalted in a movie rather than vilified. There’s a gratuitous sex scene that probably would have been better if they’d stopped filming after the bedroom door was shut. And, structurally, the film goes on after the climax.
But this is just the first of three parts. And I’ll bet that’s the reason it continued, sort of like the old serials. Bad guys beaten, now here’s what’s coming next. Plans are to release the next two parts in the following two years – on tax day, like this one, which gives it added punch. I’ll be there in the audience if that happens.