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)