The New York Times on Friday finally deigned to review the movie “Atlas Shrugged,” based on the novel by Ayn Rand, a heroine to libertarians and objectivists in particular. New critic Carina Chocano (like the rest of the critics, who weighed in two weeks ago) was scathing on the movie’s flaws and clearly disdained its politics: “A Utopian Society Made Up of Business Moguls in Fedoras.”
Could anyone have guessed, way back when it was published in 1957, that “Atlas Shrugged,” Ayn Rand’s grandiloquent doorstop of a masterwork, would one day reach the big screen as high-camp comedy? Because stilted prose and silly plotting notwithstanding, Rand’s unrelentingly popular book has exerted a powerful ideological hold on the culture, an influence that has only intensified in recent years with the emergence of the Tea Party. Still, for unintentional yet somehow boring hilarity, the novel can’t touch the cinematic adaptation, which shifts the action to 2016 and presents Rand’s ham-fisted fable of laissez-faire capitalism as something C-Span might make if it ever set out to create a futuristic, proto-libertarian nighttime soap. In the 1980s.
“Atlas Shrugged: Part I” never flinches from its mission to portray those more fortunate as victims of a lazy, parasitic society that would bleed them dry and leave them for dead, given the chance. (“Why all these stupid altruistic urges?” Dagny asks Hank at one point. “What’s wrong with people today?” Hank doesn’t know. He’s just happy to be with someone who hates humanity as attractively as he does.) It’s a hard sell, and you’ve got to admire the gumption and the commitment, but it would take a far smarter, more subtle movie than this even to approach pulling it off.
Assume that Chocano and earlier critics are correct in calling the movie “rushed, amateurish and clumsy,” and burdened by ideology. Times critics (Steven Holden in particular) have never let that stand in the way of glowing reviews for dubious left-wing material. As Times Watch has stated, the left-wing Holden embraces leftist documentaries, especially ones that target politically correct targets like big business and heartland hicks, but disdains movies that discomfit liberal sensibilities. He called "The Stoning of Soraya M," the true story of the misogynist murder of a woman in a Muslim village in Iran, "lurid torture-porn."