Movie Review: Atlas Shrugged: Part 1

Christopher Bedford Senior Editor, The Daily Caller
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Yesterday, I caught an early viewing of Atlas Shrugged: Part 1, the film adaptation of Ayn Rand’s famous novel. I went in with deep reservations, but I came away impressed.

The film, directed by Paul Johansson, focuses on two characters: beautiful railroad tycoon Dagny Taggart (played by Taylor Schilling) and genius manufacturer Henry Rearden (played by Grant Bowler).

Set in a dystopian 2016 America beset by economic depression, social disorder and a massively expanding government (sound familiar?), the film pits its two heroes against an array of corrupt businessmen, greedy government officials and leaching family members. Our capitalist heroes’ quest is to use Rearden’s new metal alloy — which is stronger and lighter than steel — to rebuild Taggart’s railroad, which is over 100 years old and completely falling apart. Their success is unacceptable to the entrenched elites, who will stop at nothing to prevent them from succeeding. Meanwhile, America’s best and brightest are disappearing without a trace, leaving behind only one clue: the name “John Galt.”

While the acting is at times melodramatic (I heard a giggle or two from the audience), and the plot is a bit wonky, the movie comes together very well. The directing and dialogue (screenplay by Brian Patrick O’Toole) take a difficult subject with no action and turn out a fast, sleek and handsome movie that pulled this reviewer — no fan of Ayn Rand or epic book-to-movie conversions — right in.

The two most amazing things about this movie are 1) that it got made and 2) that it was made on such a tight timeline and budget.

Fans of Atlas Shrugged have been waiting decades for a movie adaptation. Nearly twenty years ago, businessman John Aglialoro acquired the rights to film Atlas Shrugged for $1.5 million. After many years of failed starts and closed doors, Aglialoro’s wife told him that if he didn’t get the movie done, he would regret it for the rest of his life. Well, as we can see, with the hard work and determination of Aglialoro (who also co-wrote the screenplay), co-producer Harmon Kaslow, the cast and others, it got done.

And no, the difficulties were not the product of some leftist Hollywood plot to crush capitalism. As Aglialoro points out — and as can be seen in the movie — Atlas Shrugged does not fit the business model of major Hollywood studios, where an avoidance of risk, lack of imagination and reliance on tested (read: recycled) ideas rule the day.

The second amazing aspect of this film is how quickly it was made (once they finally started filming). They began production on June 13 and finished six weeks later, on July 22.

The entire production cost just $10 million (again, paid from Aglialoro’s own pocket), but it looks like a $50 million production. The original sets are convincing, the costumes are spot on, the script is easy to follow, the directing is wonderful and the graphics work fine. And the acting isn’t bad. Graham Beckel delivers a standout performance as hard-hitting oil tycoon Ellis Wyatt.

So far, word of mouth, e-mail blasts from friendly organizations, media mentions and light Internet marketing have been the driving forces in drumming up excitement for the film. It seems they have been successful. The movie will be debuting on Tax Day (April 15) at 300 theaters across the country — not bad for a film that lacks major studio support. As Aglialoro is quick to point out, the Oscar-winning King’s Speech debuted in only four theaters. If Atlas Shrugged does well at the box office, it will get picked up by more theaters.

And as for the lack of help (and control) of a major studio, the crew wouldn’t want it any other way. “If we attempted this the way any other film is done,” says Kaslow, “it probably wouldn’t have gone into production.”

“I like to do things my way,” adds Aglialoro. “We have the answers: how to do it, who to work with.”

The movie is rated PG-13 and is 102 minutes long. Parts 2 and 3 are set to debut on April 15, 2012 and April 15, 2013, respectively.

Christopher Bedford is the national vice-chairman of Young Americans for Freedom and executive editor of their official magazine, The New Guard. He is a 2008 graduate of American University. He has also written for American Thinker, Voices, The American Observer, Homeland Security Today and The American University Eagle.