Shrugs over 'Atlas' are ending


Hollywood soon could be going Objectivist. After decades in development hell, Ayn Rand's capitalist-minded "Atlas Shrugged" is taking new steps toward the big screen — with one of the film world's most prominent money men potentially at its center.

Ryan Kavanaugh's Relativity Media is circling the Baldwin Entertainment project and could come aboard to finance with Lionsgate, which got involved several years ago.

Rand's polarizing book — it is derided by many critics but has a huge popular following — tells the story of Dagny Taggart, a railroad executive trying to keep her corporation competitive in the face of what she perceives as a lack of innovation and individual responsibility.

A number of stars have expressed serious interest in playing the lead role. Angelina Jolie had been reported as a candidate to play Taggart, but the list is growing and now includes Charlize Theron, Julia Roberts and Anne Hathaway.

Although written a half-century ago, the book's themes of individualism resonate in a time of government bailouts, producers said, and make this the perfect time to bring the 1,100-page novel to the big screen.

"This couldn't be more timely," said Karen Baldwin, who is producing with husband Howard, with film industry consultant John Logigian advising on the project. "It's uncanny what Rand was able to predict — about the only things she didn't anticipate are cell phones and the Internet."

The author's final novel offers an embattled railroad company as a metaphor for a society Rand sees as succumbing to socialism at the expense of individual creativity. Its backbone is a 50-page speech by a major character named John Galt laying out the Rand principles of Objectivism, which argues for an aggressive free market and against government activism.

Randall Wallace, a writer on such crisis-era, politically themed works as "Braveheart" and "Pearl Harbor," has written the latest draft of the screenplay and is interested in coming on to direct.

The project would likely land in the $50 million budget range but could go higher depending on talent.

Producers are looking to shoot next year, driven in part by the timeliness as well as a clause in the option. A high net-worth individual with whom the Baldwins have partnered controls the option, but it would revert to the Rand estate if production did not begin by the end of 2010.

"Atlas Shrugged" has been moving forward haltingly for years. Faye Dunaway and Clint Eastwood had previously been attached but the project didn't get traction. Howard Baldwin and Philip Anschutz were on board to produce at their Crusader Entertainment, but that project sputtered. The Baldwins took the project with them when the "Ray" producers split from Anschutz several years ago.

Producers also say that while Lionsgate and Relativity are in the pole position, other studio and financier suitors could yet materialize.

Still, Karen Baldwin praised Lionsgate and Michael Burns, who has championed the project there, and also said Kavanaugh would be an appropriate partner. "The subject of the book would seem to fit with the kind of people who are willing to step up and take big chances," she said.