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This second installment of the planned three-part film adaptation of Ayn Rand’s signature tome is a rickety construction. Plagued with poor production values, mediocre performances, and lots of repetitive speechifying, Atlas Shrugged: Part II will attract only viewers already bitten by the Rand bug or her Objectivist cause. (Indeed, audience members at the screening I attended were fully engaged with the movie and animatedly whispering with their companions whenever various narrative aspects triggered personal responses based on their own close readings of Rand’s novel.) Yet, if Rand’s ideas about the infallibility of the free marketplace were applied to this trilogy, there would be no Atlas Shrugged: Part II. Part I did so poorly in the marketplace of the box office that only a true believer would mush ahead with Parts II and III (though I expect the trilogy will have a long shelf life as a Classics Illustrated-style alternative to reading Rand’s door-stopper of a novel).
The director and entire cast have been replaced since the conclusion of Part I, which doesn’t inspire confidence in the project’s overall vision. Furthermore, the filmmakers’ stated intention to release this installment during the height of the U.S. election season lends credence to the idea that the aspirations of Atlas Shrugged: Part II are more political than artistic. (Fox News personalities Sean Hannity and Juan Williams have cameos as television talking heads.) And that brings up another curious transposition from novel to screen: The film takes place in a dystopian future America instead of the mid-20th century of Rand’s book. In this future, a global economic depression has taken hold – gas is $40 a gallon at the pump, and protesters representing the country’s 99% are waving signs and shouting in the streets (however, the film’s depiction of the disgruntled seems to encompass the same scraggly dozen or so actors who get trotted out whenever a mob scene is needed).
The film’s focus remains relentlessly American, as in the novel, and never bothers to update that perspective in light of the present-day interconnectness of the worldwide economy. Neither does the film confront notions like who’s making all the lipstick and other petroleum-based products that still seem to be in widespread use or transporting the cases of champagne and other goods in a world that’s so thirsty for essential fuel. More than niggling examples such as these, viewers are likely to be turned off by the film’s unconvincing rendering of reality: The CGI shots look phony (although a plane-crash scene is handled nicely), the makeup looks as though it was applied by the actors’ children before they left for the set, and the screenplay is in sore need of a script doctor to turn the mechanical speeches into actual dialogue. Atlas won’t be the only one to shrug off this tiresome load.