Then there’s the dialogue. Before I went into this film, I only had one hope: Please don’t be as arch as the Gary Cooper/Patricia Neal version of The Fountainhead, a film brimming with important ideas (particularly given that it was shot in 1949, in the wake of nearly two decades of New Deal/WWII American collectivism), but laid low with big swatches of cringe-inducing dialogue. As Harrison Ford famously said in response to George Lucas’ impenetrable techno-babble dialogue during the making of Star Wars, “George, you can type this s***, but you can’t say it.” Rand’s dialogue works on the printed page, where the reader can imagine her larger-than-life characters, but even someone as iconic as Gary Cooper couldn’t make non-stop dialogue such as this work on the big screen.
This version of Atlas Shrugged probably makes Rand’s dialogue as digestible as it could possibly be in a movie. And the actors, both the aforementioned supporting vets, and the film’s stars, relative newcomers in comparison, do a pretty good job of making it work. If she isn’t blacklisted by Hollywood for appearing in this cinematic samizdat, the fetching Taylor Schilling, who plays Dagny Taggart, could have quite a career ahead of her. And Grant Bowler as Henry Rearden has a certain Coop-level diffident coolness, though without the superstar-aura that Cooper brought to his role.
A User Manual for the Obama Administration
While Kyle Smith questions the producers’ estimates of how well the film is doing commercially, the audience yesterday at the Santana Row CineArts theater was about the size of the audience when we saw The King’s Speech there earlier this year—a pretty good-sized crowd for a cinematic treatise on free-market capitalism even in deep blue San Jose. And based on their applause when the closing titles went up, they seemed pretty happy, after over 50 years, to finally see Rand’s book finally hit the big screen. (Drop me a line if you’re a fellow local who’s seen the film there.)
No one will confuse this version of Atlas Shrugged with say, a David Lean-quality Super Panavision ultra-big budget adaptation of a novel. But it got the job done, and considering America’s current economy is a nightmarish mélange of corporatism meets Gangster Government, its message is certainly timely.
Maybe too timely: I wonder if President Obama will look at the film’s opening montage, which references the price of gas going up by 2016 to about $38.50 per gallon look around at his staff, and say, fellas, dare to dream big.
Or to paraphrase Steven Den Beste’s quip about George Orwell’s 1984: Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged: a warning for the rest of us; a user manual for the Obama administration.
Update: Film critic Christian Toto on “Lessons learned from ‘Atlas Shrugged,’” excellent advice for any budding indie filmmaker.