Atlas Shrugged Part II: The Strike: Film Review
October 12 (Atlas Distribution Company)
Samantha Mathis, Jason Beghe, Esai Morales, Patrick Fabian, Kim Rhodes, Richard T. Jones, D.B. Sweeney, Paul McCrane, John Rubinstein
This weak second installment in a possible three-part adaptation of Ayn Rand's novel features an entirely new cast.
If the novel Atlas Shrugged is ultimate libertarian porn, then the first two installments of the screen adaptation are soggy softcore. With nothing going for it other than a sincere but lukewarm representation of Ayn Rand's 1,000-page dramatic manifesto about the glories of unfettered self-interested enterprise and the evils of government interference, this middle portion of an intended trilogy will only play to the converted who have already seen Part I, and then only to the most gullible among them who will swallow mediocre filmmaking for the sake of ideology. With one exception, an entirely new cast does this follow-up no favors. Box office, which for the first one started auspiciously and then wilted, looks even less promising, as no one who skipped Part I will come near this one.
It's actually too bad that such a long-delayed project as Atlas Shrugged has finally emerged in such a low-profile way, as the core concerns of the work, and especially the arguments upon which Part II pivot, could not be more central to what's going on the country right now. Scenes scattered throughout of rich business executives scurrying from their gleaming office buildings amidst crowds of Occupy-like protestors on the streets could essentially be drawn from contemporary television footage. Right now, during an election season where the philosophical distinctions between the two presidential candidates could not be more distinct, a big and bold screen version of the novel could have been very much the film of the moment.
No danger of that happening with this one, however, which is low-rent in every department. Despite the wholesale personnel changes in front of and behind the camera, Part II looks very much like its 2011 predecessor, perhaps because the one key crew member to carry over was cinematographer Ross Berryman. But the melodrama remains second-tier cable in credibility and production values, with the new potentially lurid subplots involving secret romances, divorce, betrayals and sexual blackmail, coming off as hopelessly pallid.
Pointedly, the country is going down the tubes, to the point where Washington moves in to require those few successful big businesses that remain to submit to government control. Fighting this with every fiber are railway tycoon Dagny Taggart (Samantha Mathis, replacing Taylor Schilling) and steel magnate Henry Rearden (Jason Beghe, taking over from Grant Bowler). In the most politically pointed scene, the fiercely defiant Rearden is called before a judiciary panel empowered to enforce the government takeover of his giant business as well as imprison him, but he stands his ground with impressive resilience that rouses the spectators and wilts the judges.
Otherwise, there are plenty of spinning wheels involving Dagny's efforts to start a little motor she's found that might hold the solution to the world's energy problems (one tank of gas costs her $865), Dagny's betrayal by her limp-willed brother James (Patrick Fabian, replacing Matthew Marsden), Rearden's difficulties with his estranged wife Lillian (Kim Rhodes) and the ongoing disappearances of leading minds and talents from all walks of life. The question “Who is John Galt?” keeps coming up, to the annoyance of Dagny, who uncharacteristically drops out of the rat race for a while until her final date with destiny that sets up Part III. If made, will that one feature yet another cast? Perhaps Todd Haynes would be interested. TV director John Putch handled this one, stepping in for Paul Johansson.
There is certainly room from improvement. As Dagny, the mismatch between Schilling and Mathis from the first to second part is particularly severe; Schilling is 28, tall and slim, whereas Mathis is 42 and more full-figure. If not exactly commanding, Schilling caught part of the commanding personality the role requires, while Mathis never connects with the role. While one-dimensional, Beghe is engaging as the self-made industrialist Rearden, his rough voice providing a contrast to his suave looks as well as a distinctive texture to his delivery of Randian gospel. Esai Morales is okay as a Chilean tycoon who deliberately sabotages his own holdings, while D.B. Sweeney is seen only in silhouette as the oft-discussed John Galt.
Ultimately, if a convincing, updated version of Atlas Shrugged were to be made today, the adapter would need to dispense with the railway and steel industry angles and find plausible substitutes in the high-tech field. Not only are trains the bete noir of many conservatives today, but they no longer represent what they once did and cannot serve as a lynchpin of American industry and financial might. Rand purists might object, but the work doesn't translate properly to today, or its near-future setting, due to the changed landscape in the decades since the novel was written.
Opens: October 12 (Atlas Distribution Company)
Production: Harmon Kaslow & John Aglialoro Productions
Cast: Samantha Mathis, Jason Beghe, Esai Morales, Patrick Fabian, Kim Rhodes, Richard T. Jones, D.B. Sweeney, Paul McCrane, John Rubinstein, Robert Picardo, Ray Wise, Diedrich Bader, Bug Hall, Ayre Gross, Rex Linn, Larisa Oleynik, Michael Gross, Stephen Macht, Thomas Wilson
Director: John Putch
Screenwriters: Duke Sandefur, Brian Patrick O'Toole, Duncan Scott, based on the novel by Ayn Rand
Producers: Harmon Kaslow, John Aglialoro, Jeff Freilich
Executive producer: William A. Dunn
Director of photography: Ross Berryman
Production designer: Roland Rosenkranz
Costume designer: Bonnie Stauch
Editor: John Gilbert
Music: Chris Bacon
PG-13 rating, 111 minutes