Friday, October 12, 2012

Movie Review: Atlas Shrugged Part II

Atlas Shrugged Part II
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I almost didn’t write this. For the first 80 minutes of Atlas Shrugged Part II, I didn’t think I could write a good review and I didn’t want to write a bad one. Ayn Rand’s dystopian epic about a collapsing economy and Americans giving up in despair has long been one of my favorite books. I had written a great review of Part I, but the first two-thirds of this new movie were disappointing.

The problem was directing. Although he had an experienced and talented cast, director John Putch just couldn't seem to get good performances out of them.

Samantha Mathis, as railroad executive Dagny Taggart, couldn’t deliver a line naturally to save her life. Mostly she moped around like a wet washcloth. Jason Beghe as steel magnate Hank Rearden sounded like he escaped from the cast of The Godfather, and Esai Morales made for a rather subdued Francisco d’Anconia. The speeches were flat and disconnected from the scenes around them.

Then came Directive 10-289. The government sought to prevent the economic emergency from getting worse by outlawing change. Businesses were prohibited from raising or lowering their output. Employees were prohibited from leaving their jobs. In other words, they were slaves. New Yorkers halted in the street to watch identical images of the president announce the new law, Big Brother-like, from every giant screen in Times Square. Suddenly, Atlas Shrugged Part II had become drama.

The rest of the movie was exciting and fast-paced. Rex Linn gave the best performance of the film as Kip Chalmers, a politician on his way to a fundraiser. He seemed to channel Fred Thompson as he bullied Dagny’s brother James to provide a new locomotive when the one pulling his train broke down. An older, and possibly unsafe coal-burner was found and in a gripping scene, the train got stuck inside a smoke-filled tunnel—with an army munitions train hurtling towards it in the other direction.

And then we even got to see Dagny become forceful. I wanted to cheer when she finally stood up to smarmy bureaucrat Wesley Mouch.

I didn’t completely hate the early parts. There were touches here and there that I enjoyed, many of them provided by the minor characters. Diedrich Bader was very likable as Quentin Daniels, as was, surprisingly, Bug Hall as the Wet Nurse. Star Trek Voyager’s Robert Picardo played Dr. Stadler the way I always imagined him. The production values were better than in Part I: views through the windows made the offices of New York City seem less like movie sets and more like, well, the offices of New York City. There was a great discussion about Rearden Steel on a news show, with Sean Hannity and Juan Williams as panelists. Mr Hannity defended Rearden, of course. And we got to hear the music of Richard Halley. Although his Fourth Concerto had, in the movie, become a rhapsody, the piece was true to the description in the book: “The notes flowed up, they spoke of rising, and they were the rising itself….[Dagny] listened to the symphony, thinking: This is why the wheels have to be kept going.” These bright spots kept me going until the movie got to the good stuff—which really was worth seeing.

Michael Isenberg is the author of Full Asylum, a dystopian comedy about a collapsing economy and Americans fighting back. Check it out on

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