Friday, May 06, 2011

Atlas Shrugged, Part 1 Review

Being that I have seen the film treatment of The Fountainhead, which had major Hollywood stars like Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal in the leading roles, I had low expectations for Atlas Shrugged, Part 1. I am a fan of the novels, and while films always make sacrifices to boil a tome to the essentials for the screen, I never liked how wooden the characters were. Now, you might counter and say that Rand wrote them as wooden characters. Okay, but I never read them that way.

So, I was fairly delighted with Atlas. The parts of Hank Rearden and Dagny Taggart were well cast, and well played. I was most concerned going in about the treatment of Dagny, fully expecting her to be played as a robotic, soulless creature. Alas! Taylor Schilling displayed a range of emotions in the way I would have expected Dagny Taggart to live them. Her excitement and satisfaction upon running the John Galt line's first train over the bridge made of Rearden metal was uplifting stuff.

But the cast wasn't perfect. The figure of Francisco d'Anconia, the industrial heir-turned-playboy was way off. For years, the rumor was that Antonio Banderas might play this role, and he would have been absolutely perfect. This d'Anconia, played by Jsu Garcia, lacked any flair or even the kind of trim physical build that the novel called for. And James Taggart, played by Matthew Marsden, also failed to match the novel, but in this case, because Marsden looks too sharp. He has a smart-ass smirk which is perfect, but is never shrill enough, never slouched in his chair enough, to match the whiny character created by Rand.

Other details got under my skin. Mainly, this is a film about a woman who runs a railroad- Taggart Transcontinental. So, if you're going to show dozens of shots of trains, why not do something to make someone believe that the trains are of the Taggart Transcontinental?

The worst offender was the showing several times of Metra passenger trains. The Metra is a light rail service operating in the Chicagoland area. So, if you're going to show a scene with the caption, 'PHILADELPHIA' emblazoned across the screen, please, please do not show us a Metra train.

When freight trains are shown, do not let it be so obvious that Union Pacific is pulling the train, or Norfolk Southern. Millions of dollars are spent on the production, and the trains should have proper logos to fit the film. Logos were made for the office building of the Taggart line, so the stinking trains ought to have them too.

These objections are not so great that I wouldn't recommend seeing the film, or wouldn't look forward to seeing Part 2. I do look forward to it. The story, while distilled, was true to the original. Viewing was a visual feast for the eyes, with many sweeping views over a variety of classic American rail landscapes. The main characters were excellent. So, in 5-20 years, I imagine we will at last be treated to Atlas Shrugged, Part 2!