For all its proclamations about the value of ambition and competence, Atlas Shrugged: Part I possesses only one of these attributes. See, here's the thing about movies: You need to make people want to watch them. Now I have read a bit of Ayn Rand myself, and her oeuvre is not entirely impossible to put on film. The Fountainhead might have been good. We the Living would have been even better. But Atlas Shrugged? The one with the 70-page monologue? Either nobody stopped to think about why that might have been an insurmountable drag, or they honestly believed it would enthrall people. Ah, but no.The movie starts in 2016 amid a depression so deep that mass rail transportation has made a comeback. Railroad executive Dagny Taggart (Taylor Schilling) insists that some aging track be rebuilt with Rearden Metal, supposedly far superior to steel but hamstrung by state officials who want it off the market because reasons. Dagny and the metal's creator, Hank Rearden (Grant Bowler), decide to use it anyway. Meanwhile, captains of industry all over the country are being lured out of their jobs by some shadowy figure in a hat (Paul Johansson), and Dagny decides to get to the bottom of this, along with the mystery of the meaning of the phrase "Who is John Galt?" (Answer: A guy who would be embarrassed to be caught watching this thing.)
This is usually where I'd get into the acting or the production value, but both of these are completely unremarkable. I'll say that Schilling, now of Orange is the New Black fame, was an excellent choice for Dagny, but she's lucky that she has a career at all if this was her first lead role, especially considering her next one was in a Nicholas Sparks movie. Every member of the cast has precisely one job: deliver their unbelievably ham-handed lines about capitalism and the railroad business (sexay!) with a straight face. To their credit, they all succeed, a feat that may be more deserving of an Academy Award than Nicole Kidman's for Moulin Rouge!.
One of my favourite scenes is the one in which Dagny and Hank make their deal, taking time to pat themselves on the back for the fact that they both benefit from it. Uh, yeah. Many business transactions have been known to benefit buyers and sellers alike. You might as well brag about how both you and the bartender both benefit from your need for three double shots after seeing this movie. The other is the scene immediately after that, in which Hank's socialite wife and her cartoonishly snotty friends openly scorn Hank's pride in his work. So it's OK for him to make enough money to keep her in evening dresses and white gloves for the rest of her days, but it's not OK for him to enjoy what he does to make that money? Who actually believes this?If you're on the hunt for an explicitly anti-bureaucracy movie, you're better off with Ghostbusters than you are with the film adaptation of the Objectivist equivalent of Hustler. (Is that harsh? Tell me you can't picture a college bow tie boy rising to his ultimate potential all over its pages.)