The process of converting Ayn Rand‘s seminal tome, “Atlas Shrugged,” into a screenplay could no doubt be a film in and of itself. Rand’s densely packed writing and stilted use of dialogue came across as being flatter than a bad production of a Mamet play. The filmmakers seemed to be too reverential to Rand’s words, making much of the acting come across as wooden and coldly mechanical. (However, one does not know the restraints put upon them by the all-powerful Rand Foundation regarding artistic license.) The casting was excellent and, despite the aforementioned dialogue constraints, the actors and characters were believable – at least for those who’ve read the novel. The cinematography* stunningly evoked an age of opulent and muscular industrial barons. But the production design sometimes seemed a bit lazy (deserts in Wisconsin, newspapers galore, current model cars for the year 2016).
A $15Million dollar budget doesn’t go too far with a project this size that was set in the late ’40s. I felt the film may have been better realized as either a period piece or bumped farther into the future – airplanes instead of trains, a few concept cars, some hi-tech PDA’s, and dump the newspapers and Blackberrys™.
Judging by the audience reactions and applause, the story itself resonates with Rand aficionados. However, the principles of altruistic collectivism expoused by Rand’s antagonists fall firmly into the sweet spot of today’s Kumbaya-singing youth culture.
The film’s friction point was clear: individualism, innovation, privatization and the desire for wealth is bad versus economic and social equality for all is good.
So, although the story itself was clearly of its time, it is also very timely.
*Techies note: this film was shot on the Red Digital Camera System™, digital intermediary to 35mm.