Atlas Shrugged: Part II, a quick taste of Rand's philosophy

Samantha Mathis survives a plane crash in "Atlas Shrugged: Part II," the second of three parts of the Ayn Rand novel.
Samantha Mathis survives a plane crash in "Atlas Shrugged: Part II," the second of three parts of the Ayn Rand novel.
Posted: October 14, 2012

Boy, I sure wish John Galt were president. He'd know how to fix the country!

A cross between Jesus, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Alan Greenspan, Galt (D.B. Sweeney) is the enigmatic, shadowy power that animates the momentous events in Atlas Shrugged: Part II, the soporific, seemingly interminable second part of a projected three-part adaptation of self-styled philosopher Ayn Rand's sophomoric 1957 novel.

The Russian-born Rand used her ungainly, staid novels to impart her libertarian philosophy. Her characters are little more than ciphers who spout paragraph upon paragraph of ideology disguised as dialogue.

Galt is Rand's ultimate cipher, a radical individualist, a pioneering capitalist hero - and très, très sexy to boot - whose brilliance is forever being threatened by the government and the herd mentality it engenders. The herd, the know-nothings, you see, are always trying to mooch off the brilliant and the accomplished. They want handouts.

Galt's reaction is ingenious - if disturbingly similar to toddler behavior. He decides he'd rather destroy his toys than share them. He develops a complicated plan toward "stopping the motor of the world" by tracking down other individualist geniuses and persuading them to join his wild-cat strike from life. Once the Randian dudes are gone, the country will fall apart. That'll show 'em!

Director John Putch's Atlas Shrugged Part II is set in an America beset by a severe economic meltdown. Gasoline costs $40 a gallon and no one has had the foresight to develop an alternative fuel source. The government's a real drag. Represented in the film by economics czar Wesley Mouch (Paul McCrane), an awful moocher (get it?), it imposes new regulations on companies and the tortured millionaires who run them.

The crisis deepens as more and more industrialists and scientists begin disappearing (into some secret void created by Galt, of course).

The film, which has the aesthetics of a straight-to-DVD disaster movie - mediocre acting, awkward blocking, bland photography, cringe-worthy special effects - is told largely from the perspective of one such genius, railroad heiress Dagny Taggart (a quizzical-looking Samantha Mathis).

Dagny, her lover, Philadelphia steel magnate Henry Rearden (Jason Beghe) and their friend coal-mine owner Ken Danagger (Arye Gross) have the ideal Randian relationship. They've entered freely into a contractual, capitalist arrangement: Ken supplied the coal Henry needs to smelt his metal, which is used to lay down Dagny's railroad tracks. (Wonder if the Philly setting is a tip of the hat to Flyers owner Ed Snider, who optioned Rand's novel for the screen.)

This beautiful friendship is shattered when the evil, small-minded government mugs enforce a new directive forcing capitalists to sign gift certificates, transferring their patents to the feds. Henry refuses to give in and he's subjected to a show trial straight out of Stalin's Russia.

A disaster as a film, Atlas also is laughable in its presentation of Rand's ideology. While Rand spends page upon page to develop her philosophy, the film reduces it to 30-second sound bites delivered with hilarious earnestness by the cast.

Released just in time for the presidential elections, Atlas suggests that Galt would be a dyed-in-the-wool member of the Grand Old Party, perhaps a little like Mitt Romney, a business magnate whose running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, once endorsed Rand's philosophy.

It's a convenient suggestion, but misleading: Rand, who famously heaped abuse on Ronald Reagan, thought that both parties used government to manipulate private enterprise.


Atlas Shrugged: Part II * (out of four stars)

Directed by John Putch. With Samantha Mathis, Jason Beghe, Esai Morales, Richard T. Jones, D.B. Sweeney. Distributed by Atlas Distribution.

Running time: 1 hour, 52 mins.

Parent's guide: PG-13 (mild profanity, incoherent philosophy)

Playing at: area theaters


Contact Tirdad Derakhshani

at 215-854-2736 or tirdad@phillynews.com.

|
|
|
|
|