First Look at the Movie: A Review of Atlas Shrugged, Part 1

I attended a screening on Thursday, February 24th (actually two screenings) at Sony Studios in Los Angeles. The movie exceeded my expectations.

Atlas Shrugged, Part 1 opens with the accident that threatens Taggart Transcontinental, and by extension, the rest of the country which now (2016) depends on rail transportation more than ever because of the high cost of gasoline and the terrorist threat posed by air travel. From the beginning, the movie is fast-paced and action-packed. For those of you who have not read the book, do not fear. Not only is there still time until the April 15th, 2011 premier, but the movie itself stays remarkably true to the first part of Ayn Rand‘s 1957 novel. As I told my son, feel free to see the movie, and then begin reading Part II. (Just kidding! Read the whole thing!) Rand’s novel is conveniently partitioned into three parts, with ten chapters each: perfect for a trilogy.

Dagny Taggart is as convincing as she is beautiful. In the movie trailer released earlier in the month, Dagny (Taylor Schilling) appeared to be mousy, unlike Rand’s heroic producer. However, Schilling pulled it off. While not hiding her feminine charms, she showed us the confidence and determination that makes Dagny Taggart the most sought-after female role in literature.

James Taggart (Matthew Marsden) was another surprise. When I saw the casting back in June of 2010, I was somewhat disgusted that the producers had chosen such a handsome actor to play the role of the heinous villain. His British accent didn’t bother me because I have seen other actors play the American flawlessly (Hugh Laurie, Damian Lewis). As an aside, it also works the other way (Gwenyth Paltrow). It’s  just that I had always pictured James Taggart as an oily Newman-esque character rather than a dashing young model. Again, I’ll give the casting directors credit! Matthew Marsden pulled it off with flair. From his first scene, I felt my distain for James Taggart mounting, and I cheered audibly when Dagny told him off: “If you double-cross me, I will destroy you.”

Rand’s message of rational self-interest came through, as did the sentiments of her detractors, the movie’s antagonists. The banter between them was intelligent, and I sensed more nuance in the development of the characters on film than in print. With few exceptions, Rand’s characters were flatter than the real life postmodern literary heroes I grew up with. Black or white, take your pick. She didn’t keep you guessing, and she didn’t give you too many choices. In the movie, however, you see real people, characters with rounded edges who are believable, if no less loathsome. The dialog was intelligent, but not assuming too much from viewers who have never heard of Ayn Rand.

In short, I was pleased. I’ll have more to say, so stay tuned. As always, I welcome your comments. Check out http://www.atlasshruggedpart1.com for more movie details, and see my other comments on http://www.soulofatlas.com.

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