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Movie Review

Atlas Shrugged: Part 1

‘Atlas Shrugged,’ and so does the audience

By Loren King
Globe Correspondent / April 15, 2011

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Its politics are the least of the hurdles for “Atlas Shrugged,’’ the movie.

About to lose his long-held rights to Ayn Rand’s novel, and perhaps to cash in on apparent Tea Party interest and support, producer John Aglialoro (the CEO of Cybex International in Medway) rushed this film into a low-budget production and it shows in every frame. Even fans of Rand’s 1957 antigovernment manifesto may balk at having to endure dialogue that would be banal on the Lifetime channel, along with wooden performances, particularly from Taylor Schilling as rail tycoon Dagny Taggart, and a tedious plot that reduces political and high finance machinations to boring dinner table patter. To make matters worse, this is merely part one, covering just the first third of Rand’s opus.

“Atlas Shrugged: Part 1’’ is set in 2016, but people still get breaking news from a fictional Fox-like cable station and — heartening for some of us — newspapers are still sold in vending machines. Wealthy industrialist Henry Reardon (Grant Bowler) joins forces with like-minded entrepreneur Taggart to bring a high-speed train through Colorado despite government attempts to thwart their ingenuity. Meanwhile, billionaire CEOs are vanishing as a shadowy man in a hat, trench coat, and Dark Knight rasp (director Paul Johansson doing double duty) arrives at their doors.

Taggart is shocked when the government quickly passes a law aimed at curtailing competition in business. But that record-breaking speed is nothing compared with the ease with which she launches the John Galt Line on rails made with Reardon’s new super-strong metal. When a union head storms into her office to complain that the new rails haven’t been tested for safety, Taggart counters that workers should be happy she’s providing jobs, and whether to work or not is their choice. This being a simplistic tale of visionary capitalists and the weaklings who get in their way, of course the train is safe. It barrels though scenic Oregon at 250 miles per hour. Triumphant, Taggart and the married Reardon celebrate with champagne and soft-core sex.

Refusing to let the interfering government stop them, Taggart and Reardon head to the abandoned 20th Century Motor Co. in Wisconsin. A small engine that runs on atmospheric electricity is surprise! still sitting on a dusty shelf like a grade-schooler’s abandoned science project. We’re expected to believe that Taggart, an engineering major and business tycoon who refuses to kowtow to unions, would react to the mysterious demise of the forward-thinking company by whining: “Why all these stupid altruistic urges? It’s not being charitable or fair. What is it with people today?’’

Schilling posits that query with the same lack of urgency with which she asks “Who is John Galt?’’ the enigmatic phrase that aims to be the film’s “Rosebud.’’ But with a plot devoid of suspense and characters without complexity, Rand’s iconic line elicits merely a yawn, or a shrug.

Loren King can be reached at loren.king@comcast.net.

ATLAS SHRUGGED: PART 1

Directed by: Paul Johansson

Written by: Brian Patrick O’Toole and John Aglialoro, based on the novel by Ayn Rand

Starring: Taylor Schilling, Grant Bowler, Matthew Marsden, Graham Beckel, Michael Lerner

At: Boston Common, Fenway, Kendall Square, suburbs

Running time: 97 minutes

Rated: PG-13

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