Atlas Shrugged – Part I

Susie and I went to go see Atlas Shrugged last night over at the Aurora 16.  I’m not a big fan of saying something just to hear myself blog, so I’ll limit myself here to comments that I don’t think I’ve seen anywhere before.

The consensus – that the acting seemed good, the fidelity to the book about right, and that the writers picked the right parts to hold onto and the right portions to let go – seems about right to me.  The budget – a mere $10 million, shot quickly to retain the rights – should also be kept in mind.

That said, the movie could have benefitted from slowing down in a couple of ways.  Dagny’s entrance in the book – riding the train, taking control of a muddled situation on the line, musing about promoting Owen Kellogg – would have made the scene with Kellogg work better.  It’s ok to make Midas Mulligan disappear after introducing him to a really pompous-sounding John Galt.  We don’t need to know him, and we don’t know Galt.  But Kellogg isn’t a Producer, he’s a potential producer who right now is just a competent guy.  Dagny needs him because the line is falling apart all over the country, and that’s the only context in which we’re going to care about him either.

We’re told that American infrastructure is disintegrating into dust with footage from a train wreck and an opening scene that looks like it was pulled from the Kobe, Japan earthquake.  A scene where Dagny has to basically take control of a side-tracked train would show it to us, which is what movies are supposed to do.  I know $10 million doesn’t leave a lot for on-location shooting.  One of the reviewers’ favorite complaints is that the move spends too much time with people talking in offices.  But that’s true of all boardroom and courtroom dramas, including a couple of my favorites, Executive Suite, and Sabrina.

One complaint that I had about Atlas Shrugged the book is that I don’t think Rand really articulated what drives the Carnegies, Vanderbilts, and Fords to build.  She has her stand-in for them, Hank Rearden say that his only purpose is to make money.  I think this slightly misses the mark, that Arthur Brooks’s “earned success” is closer, and that making money is largely a by-product of that success.  You’ll hear that from any number of wildly successful businessmen.

The movie actually captures this notion better than the book, in a brief scene where Rearden turns down an offer for the rights to his metal, “Because it’s mine,” in a way that the iron mines and foundries weren’t.  Those were all managed by him, but his contribution is his metal.

Most reviewers will also allow their impatience with the subject matter to cloud their judgment about the movie as a whole.  There’s almost nothing to be done about that.  It’s an inherently political movie as much as an inherently economic one.  Wesley Mouch, in announcing his czar-like plans for the country’s economy, sounds almost exactly like Obama.  I’m afraid that too many reviewers will assume that the dialog was written with current Democrats in mind, without realizing that it’s Obama who sounds like Mouch.

That openning scene with Dagny would also have let us see her listening to Richard Halley’s music on her iPod or iPad3.  The train, finally on track, speeding off into the dark towards New York, to what Rand described as his “heroic” music, would not only have given us insight into Dagny’s character, it would have given the lie to the idea that only the industrial is beautiful to industrialists.

The overall per-screen take for the weekend was pretty good, (via the Charlottesville Libertarian) and hopefully, good enough to get it some additional screens this weekend when the acid test of a word-of-mouth movie comes.  (The movie’s website had actively promoted “demanding” the film, which had resulted in a more screens being added at the last minute, including one in Omaha and one in Lincoln.)

Harmon Kaslow, the movie’s producer, has said that he needs $100 million in box office to justify making Part II.  I hope he gets it.

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