Atlas Shrugged: Four Stars

I always know, when I read the reviews panning a movie I’ve been looking forward to, that I’m going to enjoy it. This rule proved true for me again in seeing Atlas Shrugged Part I.

Taylor Schilling as Dagny Taggart

Directed by Paul Johanssonn (who also plays the mysterious John Galt), working from a screenplay by John Aglialoro and Brian Patrick O’Toole, faithfully based on the 1957 novel by Ayn Rand, the film follows the efforts of the beautiful Dagny Taggart (wonderfully played by Taylor Schilling), the youngest, and most competent, scion of the ancient Taggart dynasty of railroad barons. Dagny must fight lobbyists, the legislature, her older brother James’s (Matthew Marsden) managerial incompetence, and the mysterious disappearances of the best thinkers and producers in the country to save her family’s railroad.

Joining her in her efforts is steel magnate Henry Rearden (Grant Bowler), the target of the lobbyists and his competitors due to his innovative development of a new, lighter, stronger and cheaper steel that he calls “Rearden Metal”. Faced with steel suppliers who don’t make timely delivery on orders, Dagny engages the controversial Rearden to manufacture new rails using his much-criticized new metal.

Grant Bowler as Henry Rearden

The setting is a dystopic 2016 (which might actually look this bad, if President Obama is re-elected) in which skyrocketing gas prices due to the complete political collapse of the Middle East has rendered both commercial aviation, much of trucking and even private automobiles unfeasibly expensive; railroads have re-emerged as the primary form of transportation of both freight and passengers. It is against this backdrop, in which the only remaining nationwide railroad — the final wavering prop of the country’s internal transportation network — must be preserved. If only the short-sighted lobbyists and bureaucrats of Washington can be persuaded not to tax and regulate every remaining successful business into bankruptcy in an effort to feed the poor and unproductive who have been thrown out of work because of prior rounds of taxation and regulation.

Rebecca Wisocky does an outstanding turn as Rearden’s loathsome wife, Lillian. Rounding out the cast are excellent performances by Grant Beckel as Ellis Wyatt, Jsu Garcia as the enigmatic playboy Fransisco D’Anconia, Edi Gathegi as Eddie Willers, Michael Lerner as Wesley Mouch, Patrick Fischler as Paul Larkin, and Armin Shimmerman as Dr. Potter.

Even in 1957, Rand foresaw much of today’s liberal trends in which no enterprise is too small or too local for the federal government to get involved in, no tax is too high, no regulation too intrusive, and no bureaucrat spouting pieties about the good of “the people” and trying to legislate “equality” is above lining his own pockets and serving his own interests at the public expense.

This is not an action movie. It is long on dialog, features virtually no nudity, only one momentary and discreet sex scene, and no violence at all, and very little suspense. It is a movie about thinking men and women, for thinking men and women. It is therefore sure to tank at the box office.

And yet, there is a very urgent sense of suspense attached to this movie. It’s not about how the movie ends. This film is the first of a planned trilogy to adapt Rand’s 1100 page novel. But even those who haven’t read the book will not find the conclusion too surprising, if those movies ever get made.

No, the real suspense generated by the story of Atlas Shrugged is not how the characters will get out of their crisis. Instead, the nail-biting question is how the real America of today might hope to get out of the crisis we now face. Atlas Shrugged offers an important suggestion: stop discouraging and penalizing those who make money, create jobs, produce goods, and drive the economy. We must stop discouraging and penalizing these people before we succeed completely and drive them all out of business. And then, with no businesses left to provide us with jobs or goods, where will we be?

And so it’s in the entrepreneurial spirit of John Galt that I’ve decided to pay homage to this story in the most practical fashion: I’ve opened a new Cafe Press shop! Order your t-shirt today!