They got it right.
Sure I would have loved to see the $40 million dollar version of the same movie, but the bottom line is that it works and works well. With the executive summary out of the way, let’s go into a bit more detail about the film itself. (If you want to read about my night out at the premiere, that’s here
The story is really the star here. It’s a film on gleaming blue rails that carefully follow the curves of the landscape Ayn Rand created over 50 years ago. There won’t be any unpleasant surprises for devotees of the novel. No Jar-Jar moments to make you cringe. In fact, the producers have put together a top notch cast of character actors, many of whom will be familiar to audiences even if their names aren’t quite household words.
The major characters in this section of the book are Dagny Taggart and her brother James, Hank Rearden and Ellis Wyatt. All four offer performances that match their characters in the book. First off, Graham Beckel does a great job with Ellis Wyatt. He gets the least screen time of the four, but really livens up the proceedings every time he enters the frame. The scene where he has Dagny and Rearden to his house for dinner seemed to come right out of the book. He embodies a kind of everyman elitism that sounds contradictory but really works in the novel. Graham Beckel simply becomes Ellis Wyatt.
Matthew Marsden is younger than I imagined James Taggart being but he has the scheming, slightly petulant character down. You won’t like James Taggart and if you’ve read the book you know that’s exactly how you should feel about him. Taylor Schilling’s Dagny Taggart is sexy but a bit cold. Again, this makes it hard to warm up to her at first, but it’s also exactly how Dagny comes off in the book. As the film goes on she warms up (especially to Hank) and begins to carry the emotion of the film from the high of the John Galt line to the low of Wyatt’s torch.
For me the real surprise was Grant Bowler as Hank Rearden. He is in many ways the most complex character in the film. He has a family that doesn’t treat him well and a cold and unkind wife. Through the course of the film he falls for Dagny and begins an arc that will carry on until part 3. It probably helps that Grant/Hank had all the funniest moments (there are several). Bowler plays Hank in a way that is instantly likable and relatable, maybe even better than he comes across in the book. Grant looks a bit like Daniel Craig and so I found myself comparing his performance to Craig in Casino Royale (one of the best Bond films ever!). Obviously Atlas isn’t an action film, but there is something similar about the way both Bowler and Craig are able to humanize scenes with a smile or a quirky look. He’s the spine of part 1 and he really makes it work.
Read the full review at Verum Serum