Review: The blankness of Atlas Shrugged: Part 1

Atlas Shrugged: Part 1 is in theatres, but I wouldn’t expect a Part 2.

Atlas Shrugged: Part 1 is a film adaptation of the first half of the classic speculative fiction novel, which takes place in an economic dystopia where oil and job shortages have created a perfect storm of disruption. A banking CEO goes missing on the same day as major rail transport accident, which cuts off the little oil which is coming into the Western US via Colorado.

Over time, more important men disappear, and the co-owner of the railway becomes involved in the mystery. The film covers the events of the novel from the beginning to the Midpoint revelation of Atlantis. 

Taylor Schilling’s performance as Dagny is a bit hollow, despite her character being written as somewhat cold and practical in the novel.

Cold is one thing, this was another altogether. In fact, all of the performances come off strangely, which makes me think that it may be more of a directorial mistake than one of the actors themselves.

Every character seems distant from every other character, even in situations when there should be, by the clear development of the scene, a sort-of deep connection or even tenderness. 

Instead, almost all of the interactions are wooden and empty, leaving the audience with a feeling of pity for the emotionless husks on screen, but not much else.

Even the supposed-to-be touching scene of romance between Dagny and Rearden was played as if two puppets were meeting accidentally in the night. Schilling only seems to contrive to show some feeling once during the revelation at the end of the film, but this doesn’t work either, as the audience is left wondering why suddenly she cares, after seeming to have felt nothing this entire time.

Many scenes are filled with terrible exposition in disguise. Atlas Shrugged is a very long and involved book, yes, but one would think that breaking it into two parts would be enough. Perhaps more subplots should have been dropped to make room for the story that this film really wants to tell, although what story that is, I’m not sure.

In addition, the pacing is off. Again, this may be due to its nature as a “first half,” but some places seem rough, quick, and slipshod, while others are plodding and cumbersome.

The messages of the cautionary tale stand out starkly, and just as strangely as the characterization. The film pushes the ideas of the beauty of true capitalism, and decries the use of legislation to control business, which is similar to the novel, but the novel doesn’t let those ideas in with such baseball bat force as this film.

The pure capitalists are clearly the white-hatted good guys, and the corporate lobbyists, unwilling to get their hands dirty with real work, instead contriving to success through politics, are the clear, black-hatted bogey-men, out to destroy everything good in our world in the name of profits.

In contrast, the cinematography of the film was fantastic. The shot choices, the visual layouts, the few CGI effects, were all laid before us with a skilled hand.

Unfortunately, this is not enough to save the otherwise poorly constructed film, and I don’t think any but the most devoted Rand fans in the audience will be coming back for a second helping of this stone-faced epic.