Review: 'Atlas Shrugged, Part I'

So this is how capitalism dies… with thunderous applause.

It’s the future. America falls into a deep depression while business leaders and innovators seem to be disappearing. Soaring fuel prices make it too costly to drive or fly, rendering locomotives the last viable means to move goods across the continent. With a railway baron named James Taggart (Matthew Marsden) intent on keeping the status quo for a political ruling class, his sister Dagny (Taylor Schilling) makes a deal with manufacturer Henry Rearden (Grant Bowler) to use a revolutionary new alloy to replace aging railways in an effort to improve safety and keep the railroad running. Enduring slandering in the media, physical intimidation, and the passage of targeted legislation stifling innovation under the guise of fairness and equality, Dagny and Henry go all in to prove that their efforts can save a nation. Still, the one question on everyone’s lips is, “Who is John Galt?”

Based on the 1957 novel by the late Ayn Rand, the setting for the film feels eerily realistic, believable, and currently relevant. Reportedly shot on a shoestring and using every trick in the book to tell an epic story, the finished product is effective even unpolished. There’s little question who the good guys and the bad guys are here. The politicians are painted as a ruling class afraid of change because power flows to where the money is, and the good guys are captains of industry trying to reinvent the country’s infrastructure in spite of the restrictions placed upon them in “the name of public safety.” Regardless of the intent, it’s hard to argue with one of the core principles of the material and the allegory contained within: exceptionalism and innovation is what moves a society forward, that change must occur. Or, to paraphrase Captain Malcolm Reynolds on the short-lived program “Firefly,” governments are for getting in a man’s way.

The two main characters, our heroes, are the epitome of advertised conservative values: self-made educated people who want to make money (but dare not say so), are shown to be charitable with the money they already have on their own terms (even when such charity is unappreciated but nonetheless accepted), and are willing to risk their wealth on innovation. Meanwhile, the government goons (the so-called liberals who can’t or don’t innovate or invent anything) enjoy their status as a ruling class and are intent on doing anything to keep it. Characters are heard remarking on how wages based on what’s good for the company instead of earned by productivity caused a business to go under and other basic economic ideas lost on those who don’t understand that a bigger pie means everyone’s slice is bigger even if it’s the same portion of the whole. And, of course, there are little “Atlas holding the world on his shoulders” figures and images hidden throughout.

But what about the movie itself? There’s no big name actors (unless you count genre actor Armin Shimerman from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Deep Space Nine”) and a very small budget. Yet a story told from the point of view that rich guys are trying to save society while an apathetic government is content to let it lapse into ruin is itself highly unusual and does make one think. This is a thought-provoking film that asks you to use your brains instead of enduring explosions, car chases, and weapons fire, meaning that, by definition, it was never intended to be a mainstream film. The director, Paul Johansson, is himself credited for playing the mysterious John Galt, not to mention that this is part one of three (as the book is reportedly 1100 pages.) For what they had to work with and what was accomplished, the film succeeds in creating heroes of the main characters, making the mystery of John Galt’s designs and motivations compelling, and most importantly, setting up the remaining two parts of the trilogy.

(a three skull recommendation out of four)
3.0 out of four skulls

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36 responses to “Review: 'Atlas Shrugged, Part I'

  1. Makers vs. Takers

    Atlas Shrugged is a dangerous movie. It exposes and undermines the dominant struggle of recorded history, which is the war of the takers against the makers.

    In the war of the takers against the makers, Atlas Shrugged champions the makers. In the war of style over substance, Atlas Shrugged champions substance. In the war of hype over reality, Atlas Shrugged champions reality. In the war of authority over the individual, Atlas Shrugged Champions the individual. In the war of corruption vs. integrity, Atlas Shrugged champions integrity.

    Most people won’t get Atlas Shrugged because we have been programmed to see the world the way the Takers want us to see it; therefore, you’re supposed to hate this movie, but see it anyway and let the healing begin. If you weren’t choking back tears when they crossed the bridge, then your soul is definitely sick.

    The technique is perfect. It makes hundreds of points by simply letting us watch the lives of the characters, and the characters don’t bore us with pedantic words like “capitalism” or “socialism”. I don’t even recall them using the word “government” ?€“ how refreshing.

    The main point is how those who simply pursue their own self interest with honesty, boldness, and confidence help the world immensely; whereas, those socialists who claim they want to help world by forcing others to provide that help are causing the world more harm than good. This is not to say that all socialists are takers, many socialists are makers who serve as useful idiots for the takers, thus working against their own self interest.

    Atlas Shrugged exposes the reality of government vs. the Free Market:
    Government is a zero sum game; whereas, the free market is a win-win.
    Government redistributes wealth ?€“ the Free Market creates wealth.
    Government redistributes the same pie ?€“ the Free Market makes a bigger pie.
    Government retards innovation ?€“ the Free Market maximizes innovation.
    Government rewards failure ?€“ the Free Market rewards success.
    Government authority is force ?€“ Free Market authority is reputation.
    Government is a monopoly ?€“ the Free Market is unlimited competition.
    Government is out of control ?€“ the Free Market is self regulating.

    For all of recorded history, the takers have ruled the makers, but since 1776 the makers abruptly had the takers on their heals for the first time in history. A majority understood that they owned themselves and thus had a right to keep or trade the fruits of their own labor. A majority understood that government was a not-so-necessary evil that burdened our innovation and corrupted our character. As a result, many among the wealthy acquired their wealth through the fruits of their own labor for the first time in history.

    Of course, style, hype, corruption, authority, and hence, the takers, have been enjoying a resurgence for at least 100 years. As a result, the makers have been so corrupted by government that one now finds the makers hard to distinguish from the takers. Another result, few today have the background or the critical thinking skills to understand Atlas Shrugged.

    Baby Boomers and Generation Y seem lost already ?€“ hence the election of Barack Obama. Perhaps 10% of them will get it, but I suspect that more like 70% of Generation X will get it. Hence there is reason for those individuals of substance and integrity ?€“ those makers in touch with reality ?€“ to hope for change.

  2. A good review, but I’d like to suggest a small correction;

    The “good guys” in Atlas Shrugged are not the epitome of “Conservative” values. They are all atheists, well-educated and versed in science. They are mostly urban rather than rural. Additionally, not all of them are extremely rich; both John Galt and Quentin Daniels (the latter isn’t in this film) are not rich whatsoever. Dagny also tempts Hank Rearden into cheating on his wife; clearly this is the kind of thing that most “conservatives” wouldn’t regard as good.

    It would be more accurate to describe the characters as embodying libertarian values, not conservative values. Rand herself considered the conservatives to be morons (her piece “Conservatism; An Obituary” is worth reading on that subject).

    The villains generally are corporatists (i.e. believe in government-business collaboration), whilst the heroes are free-marketers (i.e. believe in laissez-faire). Corporatism is a pretty bipartisan attitude in American politics and even so-called liberals advocate it (government support of “green” industries, for instance, is technically corporatism).

    Other than that, the review was great to read!

  3. Is this review a joke? 3 out of four for a one-sided conservative propaganda film? Yet this dimwit gave The Fighter a bad review because it’s too one sided?

  4. Jason,

    As I stated in my earlier comment (#2) it is hardly correct to call Atlas Shrugged “Conservative.”

    If you want even more evidence than I supplied above, please check out Whittaker Chambers’ review of the book that was published in “National Review” (Chambers was a Communist spy turned Christian conservative).

    It is true that Atlas advocates free market economics (which Rand called “Capitalism” even if Marxists use the term in a totally different sense). But do conservatives really advocate actual free market economics? After all, the stimulus and bailout policies began under Bush, conservatives frequently support farm subsidies, and most of them back the Federal Reserve. Actual free market economics wouldn’t have stimulus, bailouts, subsidies or central banking.

    Rand was also completely pro-choice. She advocated abortion upon request even during the third trimester (IIRC). She can scarcely be called “conservative.”

  5. This movie was so bad. Real cheap feel to it in the script and directing. I read the book, so I know what it’s about. Just really bad and a waste of time.

  6. At last an honest review. the movie was well done. It left us hanging with a mystery. The audience clapped at the end. Obviously someone doesn’t want us to see it. Can’t believe the bad reviews – I’ve never seen a movie reviewed so poorly.

  7. Just came from seeing it. Although I did not like the deviations from the book, Hugh axton resteraunt scene should have been done truer to the book and the discovery of the motor could have been truer, and a couple more critical devations in my opinion, I think it was well done with the budget issues. I pray the whole book gets done.

  8. “the book is reportedly 1100 pages.”

    When someone takes others word for something that could be settled with a ten second google search (such as the length of a book), it’s a sign of a closed, but entitled perspective.

    Which coincidentally enough is a major criticism of Objectivism in general.

  9. Actually, the movie was pretty good. Two things to keep in mind if you haven’t seen it yet:

    1. it is not a $100 million Hollywood production

    2. the producer’s primary intent was to remain true to the book

    That being said, the movie was entertaining, the character portrayal was accurate, acting was decent and the script was well executed. I too agree that Ayn Rand’s philosophy (objectivism) will not find a strong base in conservative America but it will resonate with libertarians – who will totally connect with the messages in this movie. It’s interesting the producer leveraged the Tea Party for support of this movie (must have been the laissez-faire economics and limited government aspects of Rand’s philosophy he sold them on…). Otherwise, as stated above there are too many other aspects of objectivism which would turn those folks off.

  10. Wouldn’t my own self-interest be in the creation of this review, a physical form of art to which I’m expressing the emotion of watching the film so that others can appreciate my own perception of the final cut? Besides, the length of any book is dependent upon many factors, not the least of which are font size, binding type, and the physical dimensions of a particular release; I mentioned the number only to call attention to necessity of making three films rather than cutting out two thirds.

    On the subject of “conservative” vs. “libertarian,” I concede intentionally listing only values that I was aware of being common to both because I didn’t want to stray further than the context of the film. By way of an example, I know a lawyer who claims that “Libertarians are merely Republicans who want to smoke pot legally.”

    Finally, I stand by this review in the sense that it provokes thought while still maintaining a relatively complete narrative. It’s no more award worthy than “An Inconvenient Truth,” but it certainly provokes conversation (as evidenced by the number of comments here.)

  11. Aaron (#11),

    There are indeed some Objectivists that are closed minded and entitled. But this scarcely describes all of them. I know quite a few that are resolutely open-minded and non-entitled. Also, the philosophy itself, correctly understood and practiced, demands an open mind; it accepts that knowledge is always tentative and needs to constantly be open to revision on the basis of empirical evidence. Concepts are always open-ended. I will, however, grant that many so-called Objectivists aren’t the best practicioners of their philosophy.

    Grim D. Reaper (#13),

    Please inform said laywer who makes that claim that said claim is proof he doesn’t understand libertarian political philosophy and quite manifestly has no experience dealing with actual libertarians. Whilst yes, there are some libertarians in the Republican party (for instance, Gary Johnson), libertarian institutions such as Reason Magazine and the Cato Institute have been some of the most venomous critics of the Republican Party (and especially the Bush 2 Administration) in recent memory.

  12. @StudiodeKadent,

    This movie was one sided, a propaganda film for objective individualism. For it to get 3 out of 4 stars while the reviewer gives The Fighter a bad review for being one-sided is a joke. That is the point, not the differences between a Conservatism and Libertarianism, fine they’re different.

  13. Jason, there’s nothing wrong with a film that slants a particular way. “Starship Troopers” was slanted; “An Inconvenient Truth” was slanted. The main characters of “Atlas Shrugged Part I” are watching the country they love, one of opportunity, being snuffed out while the politicians are shown only looking out for their own. If you think that’s one sided, you’re right; there was no contrasting viewpoint of elected representatives being needlessly restricted from doing their jobs of leading a country to greatness (insert smirk here.)

    As for “The Fighter” review, I would recommend reading the comments that followed (http://moviecrypt.com/?p=5434#comment-231940) and the discussion therein. Bale’s Dicky wasn’t the main character, yet the editing did nothing but showcase Bale immersion in his role while Micky was barely an afterthought. And don’t get me started on what’s-her-name sniping the Oscar for supporting actress… ugh.

    And to throw even more fuel on the fire, check out my review on how bad “The Hurt Locker” was (http://moviecrypt.com/?p=4471) so you can tell me how wrong I am on that, too.

    Love your show and thanks for playing!

  14. D. Reaper,

    Quit judging movies on what “SHOULD have been” on screen, and start reviewing the movies that pass in front of your eyes.

    “Atlas Shrugged” was a crappy movie based on a pretty great read.

    “The Fighter” was a movie with two main characters. Wrap your head around that concept. The title wasn’t “The Younger Brother That Would Eventually Become a Fighter.” It was, “THE FIGHTER.” By the end you are supposed to question who you are really following.

    Here’s a real mindfuck… BRAVEHEART wasn’t really about Braveheart (William Wallace) his character had no arc. Braveheart was about Robert the Bruce, the character who had very little screen time, but who actually changed.

  15. @Grim D. Reaper,

    I don’t care if a movie is one sided, and I don’t care if someone likes The Fighter or not. Those are not the points I was making.

    This is not hard to understand, I’ll try to say it again.

    #1 This reviewer gives this ONE-SIDED film a good review.
    #2 He gives a bad review to The Fighter.
    #3 The reason he gives The fighter a bad review……..he says it was ONE-SIDED.

  16. @MyGod (that’s actually kind of fun to type),

    I haven’t READ “Atlas Shrugged.” I’ve no idea how good or bad the book is. I had to research who wrote it and about how many pages this or that edition had in it. I will admit, however, that I’m all about a compelling story; a horror film with nothing but unimaginative kills or a magical pair of jeans shared by a bunch of ‘tweenies isn’t going to impress me much.

    I have ALWAYS, however, given due when a film accomplishes what it promises. If “Atlas Shrugged” would have been acted out behind a cardboard box with stick puppets and did it very well, I would have still given this a positive review. Not every film has James Cameron money, a George Lucas fan base, or a Peter Jackson opportunity (and generally speaking, I would rather watch films by directors Guillermo del Toro, Gore Verbinski, or Tim Bekmambetov.)

    Lastly (and this also goes out to the ever-present Jason), this film review is my OPINION. It isn’t wrong; it’s just mine.

  17. Opinions about whether a movie is good or bad should be based on consistent reasoning. I suspect your opinion has been compromised by political leanings, but I sure you’ll deny that. The Fighter was a compelling story even if you believe it was one-sided.

  18. Dear Grim,
    I enjoyed reading your review of Atlas Shrugged. I loved the book and fully understand the concepts and premises that Ayn Rand used to breath life into the very black and white characters in her epic novel. I saw the movie on it’s first day and wanted it to be great. I find it interesting that, in your review, you were able to make so much sense out of a movie that I found very hard to follow and don’t feel that I could recommend with any enthusiasm to anyone. I truly believe that Rand herself would be disgusted with it. IF this movie can get even a single viewer to read or listen to the book, then it has done it’s job. I shudder at the thought of an Ayn Rand enthusiast being so blindly devoted to her ideals that he/she drinks the cool aid of this poorly done movie. Lillian Rearden is the only character that I thought hit the mark. Dagny is a far cry from the character I knew in the book and the futuristic Toyota Camry that made a number of appearances was laughable for the year 2016. Can the second installment be better. I sure hope so!

  19. @Randy, that’s a great point I hadn’t considered. I do tend to hyper-focus very quickly on plot elements because I admittedly care very greatly about story and (for everyone else) focus less on cardboard sets or if the actors were on loan from the CW network (the remake of “The Fog” makes me physical nauseous.) In other words, I don’t care if it looks like Michael Bay’s “Transformers 2″ if the story is a mess (if Transformers can look like people, why would they turn into trucks and planes to stay hidden, and why don’t they turn into different things if they can alter their form whenever they want?) In retrospect, perhaps the “Atlas Shrugged Part I” would have worked better for many if the world it was set within were more timeless or fictional, like the setting for NBC’s “Kings.”

  20. This was the most honest review I have read so far. Not only were you critical of it’s many (IMO minor) short comings but you appreciated the movie delivery of exactly what the book was about: IDEAS.

    Every other review I have read has been a snide ad hominem attack on Ayn Rand as if her novels success is something those losers can’t live with.

    Feel free to friend me on Facebook. I’ll pass this review along and I hope you get a bonus or something for an objective and honest peice which you didn’t just write and walk away from but stood by with integrity and confidence.

    I sincerely thank you!

  21. Let’s face it, if you didn’t read the book or are not familiar with Rand, the movie seems to make no sense. If you have read the book, you were interested in the casting and found the 2016 time frame rather creative.
    Could it have been done better…..yes. Was it enjoyable to me….definitely. I didn’t expect the majority of movie reviewers to say anything positive about it since we all know how their politics leans.
    I’m sure they love the tripe coming from Michael Moore and didn’t criticize the inaccurate nonsense in Al Gore’s global warming film.

  22. It is hard for me to believe that so many have not read “Atlas Shrugged”. In my opinion it should be required reading in at least every political science course. I have given away at least ten copies in my life to people who I thought could appreciate it–on all sides of the political sphere. Unfortunately I live in one of those places that did not screen the movie. I will make the 70 mile pilgrimage soon. And to the person who compared this to “An Inconvenient Truth”–please!! Al’s nonsense was purported to be a documentary–much like Michael Moore’s farces. The real inconvenient truth is that Al and Michael are birds of a feather laughing all the way to the bank. Hollywood hates this movie–and probably the book–golly what a surprise!! I found it interesting that one “critic” lambasted the movie on her website–the same website that, immediately following her review, posted an ad for getting free money from the government for doing nothing.

  23. Looks like this film tanked in one week. No one is going to pay for a cheap movie based on a mad woman’s perverted view of economics. Not even teabaggers. Hold your breath for Part 2 and 3 while we the rest of the world gets to watch the next great Micheal Moore film.

  24. Jason (#26),

    Rand may not be someone you agree with, but that scarcely means she was “mad.” As for her view of economics, I’m an economist (BEcon, MBusEcon) and I can assure you her view of economics is not “perverted” at all. Her view isn’t universally agreed with, correct, but it is a legitimate view of how an economy operates and one that quite a few economists have concurred with (Ludwig von Mises and Joseph Schumpeter, for instance).

    Since the film is expanding to 1000 screens, I doubt it is fair to say it “tanked” in one week.

  25. @studiodeKadent,

    Alisa Rosenbaum was mad, a drug addict, wrote about her admiration for serial killers, openly admitted she hated democracy.

    Stop listening to Peter Schiff when it comes to economics.

    Just like all followers of economic charlatans like Carl Menger, you are lying.

    This film DID NOT expand to 1000 theaters. And in just eleven days, the producer of this film is now forced to write checks to the theaters that lost money.

    A failed film, a failed economic theory, and a mad woman.

  26. Jason (#29),

    Rand took a prescription medication that contained amphetamines and barbiturates. She stopped taking said drugs when they were removed from the market. This is not being a “drug addict,” in her writings she condemned drug addiction, and even so, she supported legalizing illicit drugs (like the left allegedly support).

    As for the “serial killer” thing, she was about 23 years old when she wrote something positive about Hickman (the specific serial killer) in her journals. However, what she actually said was scarcely what you are alleging. Read this before you use the Hickman smear again: http://freestudents.blogspot.com/2010/03/smearing-ayn-rand-nietzsche-and.html

    As for “democracy,” she was referring to UNRESTRAINED democracy, i.e. a democracy that allows any law to be passed with a simple majority. This is indeed mob rule which allows two wolves and a lamb to vote on what’s for dinner. The US has limitations on what the Legislature can do (i.e. the Bill of Rights for instance), which means the US is not an unrestrained democracy.

    I don’t read Peter Schiff, and to call Menger an “economic charlatan” and to ACCUSE ME OF “lying” (i.e. intellectual dishonesty) is so utterly, monumentally offensive I don’t know where to start. You clearly haven’t studied economics at all. I’m not surprised.

    As for “a failed economic theory” I’d like you to actually point out when laissez-faire free markets was actually practiced consistently. Oh, wait, it never has been. Greenspan practiced inflation targeting and money-supply manipulation; he was closer to a neo-Keynesian than a laissez-faire person.

    All you have done is repeated discredited smears and thrown insults, including accusing me of intellectual dishonesty. You clearly have no interest in rational argumentation or discussion. I won’t waste my time here further, because I have better things to do than ‘debate’ someone that thinks everything I say is a deliberate lie.

  27. @studiodeKadent #30

    Oh my!

    So angry I called you a liar! I clearly have never studied economics!

    Yet the ONE thing I accused you of lying about ….”Since the film is expanding to 1000 screens” you conviently ignore in your reply.

    Why’s that Mr. I’m So Intellectually Honest?

    Instead what do you do? Go on a long rant about the FACTS I brought up about Alisa Rosenbaum and try to spin them.

    You lied about the movie opening in 1000 theaters! You won’t admit it, you try to distract from it, and now you run away because you have better things to do.

    You’re proved my point, you’re a charlatan, just like Carl Menger.

  28. Excellent review.

    Loved the movie. Oddly there are very few negative comments that are not venomous attacks.

    My only complaint is that the movie was too short.

  29. WOW. This is the best film I’ve ever watched, uplifting, life enhancing and life changing ,and it’s only the first part of the novel. I understand everything now…I’m no longer all alone in the world. All the main characters behave just like me. A brief synopsis; socialism takes over the world and many influential millionaires disappear, go and strike and start dismantling their companies…but it’s so much more. Having Asperger’s syndrome I can really relate to this film since all the heroes have it too. Beware though: if you watch the film or read the book you’ll never flirt with socialism ever again.

  30. I noticed you didn’t review Atlas Shrugged part 2. Why? You gave a good review to this horrific movie’s first part.

    • Haven’t seen it yet. I’ll consider how glowing a review I will give it as soon actually have. Having said that, however, there’s no guarentee; for example, I thoroughly enjoyed Rob Zombie’s take on “Halloween” and to watch him blow it out his ass in his sequel.

      • I rather just have your retraction of the good review you gave the first part. Even Ebert admitted when he was wrong about a review he gave.

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