Just tried to re-watch “Atlas Shrugged, Part I,” months after having seen it in the theater.
Despite some good elements unfairly ignored by critics, including decent acting (but hiccupy casting; why were Francisco d’Anconia and Hugh Akston so dully portrayed as such dull and scruffy nabobs of non-entityism, for instance?), the movie is a pretty weak adaptation of a powerful and challenging book. The project needed a great script and a great director, and, for various reasons, including the time crunch imposed by a belated decision to do the film independently, “Atlas Shrugged, Part I” lacked that script, lacked that director.
The movie-makers first of all had to solve the problems of adapting such a sweeping and intensely philosophical novel for cinematic consumption. The movie-makers did not solve these problems; like Atlases with trick knees, they would not or could not even begin to shoulder the job they had taken on — instead filming only a big-point sketch of Ayn Rand’s uniquely told story, a sketch that hints at its deeper themes without philosophically or artistically elaborating any single touched-upon bullet point. Other movies with less challenging themes are more thematically satisfying, because they do more than simply unspool a check list of what mattered in the original work. They are not so skittish about exploring what they’re about. Yet it’s certainly possible to do an epic and satisfying cinematic adaptation of an epic and satisfying novel; cf. Gone with the Wind and “Gone with the Wind.”
I would have preferred to see the adaptors take a chapter or two from early pages of Atlas Shrugged, imply or insinuate the relevant un-dramatized background the way effective storytelling can always do, and give that segment the subtle and intensive treatment that the narrower stretch of plot, in sufficiently capable hands, would have permitted. Perhaps the basic choices of the present movie, a selective recreation that does not understand very well how to select, would have been fine if only much better executed. But Rand’s intricate, dense and vivid tale of men of the mind who go on strike against the creed of self-sacrifice needed a consistently bold, grand, insightful adaptation. Intermittent adequacy isn’t enough.