Producer John Aglialoro obtained the rights to Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged 18 years ago. Several attempts to move forward with the film failed. In April 2010, he called Harmon Kaslow and told him he had three months to start filming or the rights world revert to Ayn Rand’s literary estate. By June, the two of them had gone into production with director Paul Johansson (The Incredible Mrs. Ritchie) and a script by Brian O’Toole (Cemetery Gates).
Eighteen years is a long time to wait to produce a film. I sympathize with Mr. Aglialoro, but I’ve been waiting 40 years to watch this film. I read Atlas Shrugged while I was in high school and it changed me forever.
Atlas Shrugged Part 1 opens April 15, 2011, staring Taylor Schilling (Nurse Veronica Flanagan on Mercy) as Dagny Taggart and Grant Bowler (True Blood, Ugly Betty) as Henry Rearden. It begins in 2016, in an America literally falling to pieces, broken by terrorism and dominated by exploitative politicians, crooked labor unions and crony capitalists. Making the situation worse, entrepreneurs, talented executives, artists, scientists and other innovators are mysteriously disappearing.
Within this dystopian world, Dagny Taggart tries to save her father’s railroad, now run by her and her conniving sycophantic brother, who has let the rails fall into disrepair. Her struggle brings her into contact with industrialist Henry Rearden who has developed a “super steel,” Rearden Metal, just the stuff to rebuild her railroad. Together they struggle against leftists thugs, collectivist bureaucrats, and dishonest intellectuals who try to steal what they produce and interfere with their plans. And all the while, people keep disappearing.
I know what you’re thinking. That doesn’t sound like some dystopian future, it sounds like Wisconsin. No, really, it’s the future.
Dagny and Henry are, however, given a clue. In this future, there is a phrase people write on walls and mutter to express exasperation and hopelessness: “Who is John Galt?”
Who would write that on a wall? Me. Well, not anymore, but during the late 1960s and early 1970s, I scribbled it on walls and in elevators at UCLA every chance I got. (How long is the statute of limitations on graffiti? Oh, well, who is John Galt?) During that dystopian past UCLA was dominated by leftists thugs, collectivist bureaucrats, and dishonest intellectuals. No, really, that was the past. Back then, you could gather all the conservatives and libertarians on campus into a small meeting room in Kerkhoff Hall. We did. It was the birth of the vast right-wing conspiracy.
So, we’ve established the plot and that I’m an Ayn Rand fanboy. (I’ve read all her books and newsletters and they sit in the upper right corner – figuratively and literally – of my office bookcase.) Should a fanboy be writing this review? Definitely. If you can make the fanboys happy, you’ve done it right.
I saw the Atlas Shrugged – Part 1 preview at Sony Studios (formerly MGM). After the producers welcomed the audience and shared some stories, the film began and I positioned my reviewers notebook on my knee to take notes. The title “2016” appeared on the screen. I wrote that down. That was the last note I took. I was so pulled into the film that I never thought about being “critic guy” until it was over. Only half a dozen other films have ever engulfed me so totally.
From the fast-paced cable-news-like beginning of grounded airliners, failed businesses, and massive unemployment into the intensely personal stories of creators battling against the petty-souled and the mindless mob, I never took my eyes from the screen. This was a faithful adaptation of the novel. The fanboy was satisfied and the “critic guy” was blown away.
This is not an easy story for screenwriter or director. It involves such breath-taking and exciting incidents as passing laws, corporate take-overs, union negotiations, talking with lobbyists, making donations to non-profits and cocktail parties. You’re probably shaking from excitement just thinking about this, right? Well, what’s amazing is that it is exciting. OK, I left out the 240 mph train ride and the oil field blowing up, but, even without those, it glues you to your seat.