David Kelley Reviews Atlas Shrugged Part 1, the film


Recommended Posts

Review of Atlas Shrugged Part 1, the film

by David Kelley

February 24, 2011

"Midas Mulligan," says the shadowy figure who accosts the prominent banker in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged.

"Who's asking?""Someone who knows what it's like to work for himself and not let others feed off the profits of his energy."

So begins Atlas Shrugged Part I, the independent adaptation by "The Strike" Productions, scheduled for theatrical release April 15, 2011.

Ever since the project launched last April, skeptics have wondered how a film with a limited budget of $10 million, rushed production schedule, and lack of big-name talent could possibly do justice to the novel. Over a thousand pages long, with an intricate plot, epic scope, multi-layered mystery, a hero who does not appear until the final third of the story, and a complex philosophical theme, Atlas Shrugged has posed an insurmountable challenge to film-makers. The streets of Hollywood are littered with the ashes of prior efforts, some with much larger budgets.

The skeptics are wrong. The completed film was shown today for the first time in a private screening. It is simply beautiful. With a screenplay faithful to the narrative and message of the novel, the adaptation is lushly produced. The acting, cinematography, and score create a powerful experience of the story.

Taylor Schilling is riveting as Dagny Taggart, the woman who manages the Taggart Transcontinental rail system with intelligence and courage while fighting interference from the president of the company, her incompetent brother James (Matthew Marsden), and his political cronies. Schilling is well-matched with Grant Bowler as steel-maker Hank Rearden. As the story opens, Rearden has just started producing a new alloy he invented; and Dagny is his first customer. She wants to have rails of the metal to replace a branch line in Colorado, which is booming with business growth, led by oil-producer Ellis Wyatt, who is clamoring for better transportation for his product.

The film covers the first third of Rand's novel, the triumphant story of building the "John Galt Line"—followed by a wave of government edicts that saddle the Line with impossible burdens, making the triumph a battle won in a losing war between producers and looters, and setting the stage for the later battles of Parts II and III. The film pulls no punches in this regard: Rand's theme of makers vs. takers comes through loud and clear in scenes like the one in which Rearden is forced to sell off his satellite companies. Bowler captures the agony of a man having his life's work torn from him.

The film does a credible job of portraying visually the world of Atlas Shrugged. Rand created a world in decline. Buildings and machinery are in disrepair, things break and don't get fixed, businesses close. The economy is in a state of severe depression, and there is a depression of the spirit, too, a mood of despair, futility, and resignation captured in a popular expression: "Who is John Galt?"

Compounding the problem is the disappearance of highly talented people, prominent achievers at the peak of their success. That's happening, of course, because John Galt is leading a strike of producers against the expropriation of their wealth—and against the principle that the need of others gives them a right to wealth, time, and effort of the productive. Though the strike remains largely off-stage in the film, Galt gets a more active role than in Part I of the novel. We don't see his face, but we do see him recruiting strikers and we hear portions of the message. Unfortunately, those lines are not delivered with anything like the persuasive power that Rand's philosophical recruiter must have.

The novel was set in an indefinite "day after tomorrow," a world that is always just ahead of us, retreating like the horizon as we approach. The producers made the controversial decision to date the story in late 2016, presumably to tap into the many parallels to current events, and the establishing shots of cities, train wrecks, and government actions are arresting extrapolations of today's actual world. These depressing scenes are offset by gorgeous scenes of triumph. The first run of the John Galt Line is a visual symphony (even with some ragged edges in the digital graphics).

For over half a century, Rand's novel has been a lightning rod for controversy. It has attracted millions of devoted fans—and legions of hostile critics. A poor adaptation could be ignored by both sides. This adaptation can't be ignored. It is way too good. It is going to turbocharge the debate over Rand's vision of capitalism as a moral ideal. Whether you love the novel or hate it, Atlas Shrugged Part I is a must-see film.

---------

David Kelley is executive director of The Atlas Society, which promotes Rand's philosophy. He was also a consultant to the movie.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I am very glad to read this review. And I have no doubt David's evaluations are spot on.

I know I really like what I've seen of the film so far.

I have another thought to add. Boy, is this film going to piss off a lot of people.

Not me, though. I get to watch two really good shows: the movie and all the people getting hacked off--actually three shows: the movie, all the anti-Rand people getting hacked off because Ayn Rand's idea are spreading, and all the pro-Rand people getting hacked off because of the movie's success (both as a production and presumably audience-wise).

Time to get my popcorn...

Michael

Link to post
Share on other sites

Folks:

There is no possible downside to the movie.

First of all, it is, at worst, good enough.

I have been mulling over the "coincidence" of it being released in this year, in this philosophical crisis for our country and, apparently, the entire globe.

We are at that critical tipping point culturally.

Lo and behold, the film appears. As that saying in Sanskrit that I love "explains," ...

Coincidence, when traced back far enough, becomes inevitable.

All of the folks that have not read any Rand, but have heard me refer to her writings, that I have sent the trailer and the Rearden family clip have been eager to see the film.

More than half have bought the book.

This is the right film at the right time.

All we have to do is take advantage of a tremendous opportunity that it creates.

A huge door is opening and we should be smart enough to walk through it proudly, head held high and ready to articulate our ideas.

Adam

Post script:

All of the women that I sent it to love the Dagny role and the way the actress portrays it.

Link to post
Share on other sites

[...] I get to watch two really good shows: the movie and all the people getting hacked off — actually three shows: the movie, all the anti-Rand people getting hacked off because Ayn Rand's ideas are spreading, and all the pro-Rand people getting hacked off because of the movie's success (both as a production and presumably audience-wise).

Why on Earth would the latter two phenomena give you either entertainment or pleasure? Are you looking for "really good" reasons to experience Schadenfreude?

You've left me just as perplexed as you did, several years ago, when you slammed "Little Miss Sunshine" at great length, and called those of us who liked it "losers and worse." I still cannot fathom such a reaction, or the effort devoted to recording it.

Apart, that is, from the rhetorical pleasure of vigorously working one's vocabulary and writing skills — which to me was behind, for example, Roger Ebert's book-length collection of negative reviews, entitled I Hated, Hated, HATED This Movie. Yet Ebert was paid for those reviews, and wanted another book to sell. Why gin up so much negative energy without being paid for it, at least?

Link to post
Share on other sites

[...] I get to watch two really good shows: the movie and all the people getting hacked off — actually three shows: the movie, all the anti-Rand people getting hacked off because Ayn Rand's ideas are spreading, and all the pro-Rand people getting hacked off because of the movie's success (both as a production and presumably audience-wise).

Why on Earth would the latter two phenomena give you either entertainment or pleasure? Are you looking for "really good" reasons to experience Schadenfreude?

You've left me just as perplexed as you did, several years ago, when you slammed "Little Miss Sunshine" at great length, and called those of us who liked it "losers and worse." I still cannot fathom such a reaction, or the effort devoted to recording it.

Apart, that is, from the rhetorical pleasure of vigorously working one's vocabulary and writing skills — which to me was behind, for example, Roger Ebert's book-length collection of negative reviews, entitled I Hated, Hated, HATED This Movie. Yet Ebert was paid for those reviews, and wanted another book to sell. Why gin up so much negative energy without being paid for it, at least?

Isn't laughing at the contemptible an Objectivist virtue?

J

Link to post
Share on other sites

I was right -- laughing at the contemptible is an Objectivist virtue:

Humor is the denial of metaphysical importance to that which you laugh at. The classic example: you see a very snooty, very well dressed dowager walking down the street, and then she slips on a banana peel . . . . What’s funny about it? It’s the contrast of the woman’s pretensions to reality. She acted very grand, but reality undercut it with a plain banana peel. That’s the denial of the metaphysical validity or importance of the pretensions of that woman. Therefore, humor is a destructive element—which is quite all right, but its value and its morality depend on what it is that you are laughing at. If what you are laughing at is the evil in the world (provided that you take it seriously, but occasionally you permit yourself to laugh at it), that’s fine...Humor is not an unconditional virtue; its moral character depends on its object. To laugh at the contemptible, is a virtue; to laugh at the good, is a hideous vice.

J

Edited by Jonathan
Link to post
Share on other sites

Steve,

You're complicating a simple issue.

I love to see manipulators and the phony-baloney squad squirming when reality does not pan out as they preach and everybody sees it.

I enjoy it all the more when they have damaged folks of goodwill with vanity-serving sermonizing and underhanded actions.

As to actual Schadenfreude, if you mean do I take joy in any physical pain or mental anguish they may feel on a normal existential level? No.

But do I enjoy watching their pompous sanctimonious self-images deflate into a pile of mush, or watch them gnash their teeth in impotence because they want to rule others and those they want to rule prefer to think for themselves? Damn straight. Frankly, it's almost as good as sex.

I wish their toxic influence over people destroyed, especially when people take their manipulations in good faith. You bet I do. And I take great delight when I see it evaporating. There's more. When solid productive achievement is the direct cause of their impotent power-grubbing frustration, it's even sweeter to me.

If that be Schadenfreude to you, we have vastly different meanings for that term.

Howard Roark said to Toohey, "But I don't think of you."

I'm not Howard Roark. I do.

Michael

Link to post
Share on other sites

Can one review a review of a movie not yet released? Can anything be said that is meaningful? I am speaking here only for myself. Plunging in where the sensible may not go,...

It is hardly likely that David Kelley, a consultant to the movie's producers (Did he write any dialogue?), would be very critical of a film bankrolled and produced by one of The Atlas Society's Trustees. Aglialoro and TAS have a lot at stake in the success or failure of this film.

Now, on the other hand, if Leonard or other ARIan devotees also commend the film...... Frankly, I would be happy if they not comment at all, but I suppose that that is highly unlikely.

But, nevertheless, I have enough trust in the integrity of Kelley's judgment to not simply discount what he has written about the quality of the film because he has a vested interest in its success. Also, I did not catch the "damning with faint praise" that has been mentioned elsewhere in this thread. Most of what David wrote was very complimentary about the movie. What was not commented upon was how a movie trilogy will work in this context. Is there enough in Part One to attract the same viewers back for Parts Two and Three? And the success of the trilogy (if it is completed) will pretty much depend on getting the same audience back - it is unlikely that a lot of new viewers will come to see Parts Two and Three if they have not already seen Part One. So, Part One is pretty much a "do or die" proposition.

The only way to circumvent this problem is to release Part One on DVD and/or as a download, after its theatrical run has been completed. This would give others who did not get to the movie theater a chance to see it and build up enough interest to see the remaining parts.

Beyond that, there is not much to say. I will certainly go see the film in a theater and judge for myself, as most other fans of the novel will do. Probably at least a couple of times. Unless it is a total turkey,...and then I'll probably still see it a number of times (if only to deal in my own mind with the resultant "I don't believe that they really did this" phenomenon).

Link to post
Share on other sites

Review of Atlas Shrugged Part 1, the film

by David Kelley

February 24, 2011

[...]

Though the strike remains largely off-stage in the film, Galt gets a more active role than in Part I of the novel. We don't see his face, but we do see him recruiting strikers and we hear portions of the message. Unfortunately, those lines are not delivered with anything like the persuasive power that Rand's philosophical recruiter must have.

[...]

The first run of the John Galt Line is a visual symphony (even with some ragged edges in the digital graphics).

I don't see any "damning with faint praise" in Kelley's review. The above under-scored passages are the *only* negative comments I could detect. And the voice of John Galt, I understand (from Bob Bidinotto), was provided by the ~director~, standing in for the actual Galt actor. Perhaps they will replace his voice with the real guy before release...

For over half a century, Rand's novel has been a lightning rod for controversy. It has attracted millions of devoted fans—and legions of hostile critics. A poor adaptation could be ignored by both sides. This adaptation can't be ignored. It is way too good. It is going to turbocharge the debate over Rand's vision of capitalism as a moral ideal. Whether you love the novel or hate it, Atlas Shrugged Part I is a must-see film.

---------

That's good enough for me! Actually, I will add, whether you love or hate the *film*, it is a must-see, and millions *will* see it and thousands more copies of Atlas Shrugged *will* be bought and read. And perhaps capitalism, *Real* capitalism, will be revived, as a result of the Atlas movie and the Tea Party.

David Kelley is executive director of The Atlas Society, which promotes Rand's philosophy. He was also a consultant to the movie.

Certainly we could quibble that Kelley is not the most likely person to provide an impartial review! But I'm greatly encouraged by the fact that his comments all were in line with my own impressions of the trailer and Rearden clip we've seen so far. Apart from the philosophical and cinematic issues, I *adore* the people's portrayal of Dagny and Hank. Gads, could you imagine if Rand had had her way 40 years ago, and Raquel Welch and Clint Eastwood had been cast in their roles? (For the record, I *love* both of these people's work, but NOT AS DAGNY AND HANK!!)

REB

Link to post
Share on other sites

Steve,

You're complicating a simple issue.

I love to see manipulators and the phony-baloney squad squirming when reality does not pan out as they preach and everybody sees it.

I enjoy it all the more when they have damaged folks of goodwill with vanity-serving sermonizing and underhanded actions.

As to actual Schadenfreude, if you mean do I take joy in any physical pain or mental anguish they may feel on a normal existential level? No.

But do I enjoy watching their pompous sanctimonious self-images deflate into a pile of mush, or watch them gnash their teeth in impotence because they want to rule others and those they want to rule prefer to think for themselves? Damn straight. Frankly, it's almost as good as sex.

I wish their toxic influence over people destroyed, especially when people take their manipulations in good faith. You bet I do. And I take great delight when I see it evaporating. There's more. When solid productive achievement is the direct cause of their impotent power-grubbing frustration, it's even sweeter to me.

If that be Schadenfreude to you, we have vastly different meanings for that term.

Howard Roark said to Toohey, "But I don't think of you."

I'm not Howard Roark. I do.

Michael

I'm with you, Michael. I *love* it when contemptible and/or evil people "get theirs." It is a life-affirming reminder that we live in a benevolent universe, and that evil is ultimately impotent.

REB

Link to post
Share on other sites

Folks:

There is no possible downside to the movie.

First of all, it is, at worst, good enough.

I have been mulling over the "coincidence" of it being released in this year, in this philosophical crisis for our country and, apparently, the entire globe.

We are at that critical tipping point culturally.

Lo and behold, the film appears. As that saying in Sanskrit that I love "explains," ...

Coincidence, when traced back far enough, becomes inevitable.

All of the folks that have not read any Rand, but have heard me refer to her writings, that I have sent the trailer and the Rearden family clip have been eager to see the film.

More than half have bought the book.

This is the right film at the right time.

All we have to do is take advantage of a tremendous opportunity that it creates.

A huge door is opening and we should be smart enough to walk through it proudly, head held high and ready to articulate our ideas.

Adam

Post script:

All of the women that I sent it to love the Dagny role and the way the actress portrays it.

Adam, I totally agree. It reminds me of the saying, "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear."

Someone once said, "No one is coming," as in: don't count on someone else to "save" you. Take responsibility for your own well-being and happiness. But Atlas Shrugged has been here for over 50 years, and its ideas, in the minds of enough people, *will* save us (from irrationality and collectivism).

As Kelley said, the Atlas movie will "turbo-charge" the debate over capitalism -- and so much more. And that could give our culture a HUGE push in the right direction, away from the tipping point at which we clearly seem to be.

REB

Link to post
Share on other sites

[....] I will certainly go see the film in a theater and judge for myself, as most other fans of the novel will do. Probably at least a couple of times. Unless it is a total turkey,...and then I'll probably still see it a number of times (if only to deal in my own mind with the resultant "I don't believe that they really did this" phenomenon).

Jerry, I'm sure my own approach to this imminent blessed event will be much the same.

I mentioned earlier the extended moment of silence in episode 2 of the HBO John Adams series, just after the resolution of independence was passed. Stunned at what they had just accomplished. Mentally pinching themselves over how difficult it had been, and how unlikely it had been that it would be accomplished. Kinda like this Atlas baby that we're all anxious to see birthed...REB

Link to post
Share on other sites

Ahem, and just so the OL record is clear, I did not say Kelley was damning with faint praise. I said his review was faint praise (faint praise still constitutes praise). Perhaps that is a function of Kelley's personal style, or, equally likely, merely that he is gracious enough to avoid a Tarzan dance in light of his involvement with the film.

I am still curious about the soundtrack, and looking forward to that especially.

Link to post
Share on other sites

[....] I will certainly go see the film in a theater and judge for myself, as most other fans of the novel will do. Probably at least a couple of times. Unless it is a total turkey,...and then I'll probably still see it a number of times (if only to deal in my own mind with the resultant "I don't believe that they really did this" phenomenon).

Jerry, I'm sure my own approach to this imminent blessed event will be much the same.

I mentioned earlier the extended moment of silence in episode 2 of the HBO John Adams series, just after the resolution of independence was passed. Stunned at what they had just accomplished. Mentally pinching themselves over how difficult it had been, and how unlikely it had been that it would be accomplished. Kinda like this Atlas baby that we're all anxious to see birthed...REB

And to this, I will add that we must be prepared for brutal, scathing reviews from left and right alike. The Tea Party folks will embrace it, but the cultural conservatives will denounce it, even though it won't contain much that they reject in Rand (e.g., abortion, atheism, etc.).

And not just angry and denunciation, but also ridicule and minimizing. Rachel Madcow and Bill Marred come to mind.

But the power of Atlas is being further unleashed, and the tidal wave of opposition will be powerless to stop it.

REB

Link to post
Share on other sites

Ahem, and just so the OL record is clear, I did not say Kelley was damning with faint praise. I said his review was faint praise (faint praise still constitutes praise). Perhaps that is a function of Kelley's personal style, or, equally likely, merely that he is gracious enough to avoid a Tarzan dance in light of his involvement with the film.

I am still curious about the soundtrack, and looking forward to that especially.

Sorry for the misquote!

I thought that there were more than enough glowing adjectives and phrases to rise above the level of "faint praise." I guess we'll have to agree to disagree on that.

But yes, Kelley is not as effusive a person as, say, Robert Bidinotto, who is very ebullient in his comments these days.

And I, too, am interested in seeing how the film's soundtrack comes out--especially, whether there will be any memorable themes, or just dramatic, boreboding, gloomy, etc., mood music. If it ~works~, it really doesn't matter, but I confess to being a melody freak. :-)

REB

Link to post
Share on other sites

Ahem, and just so the OL record is clear, I did not say Kelley was damning with faint praise. I said his review was faint praise (faint praise still constitutes praise). Perhaps that is a function of Kelley's personal style, or, equally likely, merely that he is gracious enough to avoid a Tarzan dance in light of his involvement with the film.

I am still curious about the soundtrack, and looking forward to that especially.

Sorry for the misquote!

I thought that there were more than enough glowing adjectives and phrases to rise above the level of "faint praise." I guess we'll have to agree to disagree on that.

But yes, Kelley is not as effusive a person as, say, Robert Bidinotto, who is very ebullient in his comments these days.

And I, too, am interested in seeing how the film's soundtrack comes out--especially, whether there will be any memorable themes, or just dramatic, boreboding, gloomy, etc., mood music. If it ~works~, it really doesn't matter, but I confess to being a melody freak. :-)

REB

No problem and certainly no need to apologize. Nobody asked me for advice on the soundtrack, but it would be something of a shame if this song weren't featured. Belongs in the scene of the first ride on the Galt Line. True to life, indeed.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Ahem, and just so the OL record is clear, I did not say Kelley was damning with faint praise. I said his review was faint praise (faint praise still constitutes praise). Perhaps that is a function of Kelley's personal style, or, equally likely, merely that he is gracious enough to avoid a Tarzan dance in light of his involvement with the film.

I am still curious about the soundtrack, and looking forward to that especially.

Sorry for the misquote!

I thought that there were more than enough glowing adjectives and phrases to rise above the level of "faint praise." I guess we'll have to agree to disagree on that.

But yes, Kelley is not as effusive a person as, say, Robert Bidinotto, who is very ebullient in his comments these days.

And I, too, am interested in seeing how the film's soundtrack comes out--especially, whether there will be any memorable themes, or just dramatic, boreboding, gloomy, etc., mood music. If it ~works~, it really doesn't matter, but I confess to being a melody freak. :-)

REB

No problem and certainly no need to apologize. Nobody asked me for advice on the soundtrack, but it would be something of a shame if this song weren't featured. Belongs in the scene of the first ride on the Galt Line. True to life, indeed.

I like that song. I'd never heard it before. But the rock rhythm really suggests the inexorable, determined pushing forward of a railroad train. I think it's the heavy accent on beat 3 that really drives it.

For decades, my choice for the running of the John Galt line was Rachmaninoff's piano prelude in C-sharp minor. The middle section is very dynamic. Check it out!

REB

Link to post
Share on other sites

Ahem, and just so the OL record is clear, I did not say Kelley was damning with faint praise. I said his review was faint praise (faint praise still constitutes praise). Perhaps that is a function of Kelley's personal style, or, equally likely, merely that he is gracious enough to avoid a Tarzan dance in light of his involvement with the film.

I am still curious about the soundtrack, and looking forward to that especially.

Sorry for the misquote!

I thought that there were more than enough glowing adjectives and phrases to rise above the level of "faint praise." I guess we'll have to agree to disagree on that.

But yes, Kelley is not as effusive a person as, say, Robert Bidinotto, who is very ebullient in his comments these days.

And I, too, am interested in seeing how the film's soundtrack comes out--especially, whether there will be any memorable themes, or just dramatic, boreboding, gloomy, etc., mood music. If it ~works~, it really doesn't matter, but I confess to being a melody freak. :-)

REB

No problem and certainly no need to apologize. Nobody asked me for advice on the soundtrack, but it would be something of a shame if this song weren't featured. Belongs in the scene of the first ride on the Galt Line. True to life, indeed.

I like that song. I'd never heard it before. But the rock rhythm really suggests the inexorable, determined pushing forward of a railroad train. I think it's the heavy accent on beat 3 that really drives it.

For decades, my choice for the running of the John Galt line was Rachmaninoff's piano prelude in C-sharp minor. The middle section is very dynamic. Check it out!

REB

REB: thank you for confirming my prejudices!

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 1 month later...
  • 2 weeks later...

.

Wonderful!

We saw it. It was fantastic!

We spoke a good while with a woman near us before the film. She is an avid reader and is now planning to read the book. After the film, she was clearly elated and anxious to know when the next parts would be out.

Well done.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

PS

Michael Shermer

Edited by Stephen Boydstun
Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now