Monday, April 18, 2011

Movie Review: "Atlas Shrugged" -- Better Than The Book

“Atlas Shrugged” Part One has been in the theaters for just three days now, and already the professional critics are panning it frantically – while the audiences love it. After seeing the movie, I can understand why the critics are so desperate to disparage it. The movie is better than the book, and probably will win more converts to Ayn Rand’s philosophy.

The original novel, which has been a consistent – and controversial – best-seller for more than half a century, is a thrilling, gripping horror of a badly-written book. Weighing in at nearly 1000 pages, it’s thought-provoking but slow, ponderous and talky. Rand, apparently never having heard the phrase “show, don’t tell” had no problem stopping the action of the story to insert 3-to-20 page speeches. Her characters were memorable, but not very deeply drawn. Her plot was original and intricate, but too often got bogged down in the speeches. In many ways, it was the mirror-image of Jack London’s unfairly neglected novel, “The Iron Heel”.

The movie avoids all those pitfalls, concentrating on plot and character, and replacing the long speeches with stunning visuals. For example, nobody has to describe Francisco D’Anconia as a “rich playboy” when a single shot shows him walking into a high-class restaurant wearing flashy clothes and fondling two equally flashy girls. The script is as quick and compact as the average CSI episode, and the camera-work is often brilliant. The scenes of the train rushing across the country at top speed, moving like a silver snake, are worth the price of admission by themselves. Possibly for just these reasons, the movie comes across as a film noir mystery thriller, which the book never managed to do. It also seems too short, despite its respectable 1 hour and 40 minute running time.

Because this is an independent film, produced on a budget ($10 million) which is incredibly cheap for an epic, it has a cast of mostly unknown actors who still manage to do good solid work. Likewise, a lot of stock footage – mostly of scenery and railroad construction – has been slyly and seamlessly inserted into the film. Even so, the camera-work is wonderfully Gothic in both the modern and original literary sense: using the environment itself to cast moods and convey themes. The film-crew had to cut corners to save money, but those corners are brilliantly cut. The cinematographer, director and scriptwriter deserve at least nominations for the Oscar.

Altogether, “Atlas Shrugged” Part 1 is a thrilling, gripping gem of a movie, far better than the original novel. Considering how Politically Incorrect Ayn Rand’s book was, it’s quite understandable that critics hired by the mainstream media are frantic to discourage potential viewers from watching it.

--Leslie <;)))>< )O(


Mark Horning said...

I was going to go see it on Sunday. 45 minutes before showtime the line was around the block. I think I'll wait until a weeknight.

Anonymous said...

I've always thought that part of the problem with Atlas Shrugged was that it was a single book, not a series of books surrounding a single theme. The "Twentieth Century Motor Company" subplot would have made a fine novel in itself, IMNSHO, if it were just expanded. I showed that to my late mom, who grew up just down the road from the Amana Colonies and was a little girl when they stopped being a collective, and she said it sounded a lot like what happened with the Amanas.

Aya Katz said...

I'm glad the movie is doing well, but I prefer the book.

John Galt should not have been shown at all, as this is Part 1. Instead, there should have been the wonderful seduction scene between Francisco and Rearden where Francisco slowly and delicately turns Rearden around.

Sure, the novel had too many speeches, and the ones that ran to hundreds of pages should have been cut. But to never show people talking about ideas is to reinforce the public's view that philosophy doesn't matter.

And how about her attack on conservative social values? From seeing the movie, you'd think everything was only about economics.

I know there are lots of fans who only the "Twentieth Cebtury Motor Company" message, but for those of us who liked all of what she had to say about life, work and love, it was disappointing.

However, if you haven't seen it yet, do go and see it!

Leslie Fish said...

Hi, all. Yes, by all means, if you haven't seen AS yet, go see it as soon as you can.

Mark, I went to see it early on Monday afternoon (got the weekday matinee cut-rate price), and even so, the theater was almost completely full. I've heard accounts that its first weekend brought in $1.6 mil, which must really p!ss off the frantic-Lefty crowd.

Hi, Eric. In fact, I have seen co-op businesses that were quite successful. All of them were small and local. Indeed, I know a few classic Socialists who insist that the only form of Socialism that can work is the small and local: the municipal sewage system, the specific labor union, the local co-op grocery, etc. We've all seen plenty of historical examples about the failures of large and national Socialism, so they may well be on to something.

Hi, Aya. Yes, most of the favorable reviews mention that the John Galt character was poorly handled. Then again, the few times you see him he's so thoroughly shadowed that you can't make out his face; this could allow the director to move in another actor for the next two films. Actually, the short but concise and punchy lines between Reardon and Francisco were quite effective. O'Brien's dialog is nearly all like that; I get the impression that he's written scripts for TV shows, and is very conscious of making every second -- and word -- count. From what I saw, the director cleverly used plot and camera-work to express the philosophy without having to resort to Rand's enormous speeches.

You know, come to think of it, I can't recall another movie about founding and maintaining a business since "Bright Leaf", which was made in the '30s.

--Leslie <;)))><

Anonymous said...

The problem with the Amanas was that they weren't small...about seven towns' worth of people, IIRC. When you don't know everybody who's in on this with you, it's easier to rationalize screwing the group out of something.

Pure communism can work, if participation is voluntary (i.e. a monastery) or genetic (an ant hill.)

And the Amana-folk didn't abandon everything. Some of their ideas, like enforced simplicity in funerals (all Amana tombstones are identical, just like VA tombstones) struck Mom as eminently sensible.

Mark Horning said...


Boxofficmojo has the weekend take at $1.69 Million. More importantly that's 1.69 million while being shown on only 299 screens. The take per theater was better than any movie except "Rio".

Unknown said...

Ayn Rand's Libertarian principles: are they represented in this film, or the book? I'm none too keen on attending a "Battlefield Earth" kind of motion picture, even though it may be well done (anything can be better made than B.E. from what I gather).

I also seem to recall that after the economic collapse the Secretary of the Treasury (iirc) had been following Rand closely, thought she had the right ideas, made decisions about the interest rate, etc., and ultimately said for the record she was wrong...

KateGladstone said...

"... ahrilling, gripping horror of a badly-written book. Weighing in at nearly 1000 pages, it’s thought-provoking but slow, ponderous and talky. ..,"

In other words:
It's a Russian novel, just written in English instead,