Yes, the Latest Right-Wing Paean to Sociopath Ayn Rand Is Really, Really Awful
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Even so, one of the very first things that competent directors and actors do with any material is to establish the stakes involved. In other words, when a character says a line such as “There is so much at stake, we have to make it,” it should be delivered with more urgency and intensity than the guy in stoner comedies who asks, “Dude, you got any chips?” Needless to say, the actors failed even this simple test, creating unintentionally hilarious scenes like the one where Bowler tells his lonely socialite wife that “I didn’t come here for sex” in the robotic same tone that the Terminator says “I’ll be back” to his enemies.
And speaking of sex, Taggart and Reardon’s sex scene is unusually awful because we’re watching two characters who haven’t shown any emotions for the film’s first 70 minutes suddenly try to be tender with one another. It’s the equivalent of Emperor Palpatine ambling over to Darth Vader after the two of them just finished slaughtering a room full of Jedi and asking meekly for a hug. The scene isn’t at all helped by the schmaltzy piano-and-strings soundtrack that’s meant to conjure up romantic passion but that seems wildly out of place in a Rand story. In fact, the scene could have come across as more believable if the directors had just decided to play some German industrial metal in the background to let us know that Dagny and Reardon were approaching copulation with the same level of unsentimental brutality that’s helped them succeed in the business world.
Poorly written characters can’t totally doom a film if they’re at least given something interesting to do -- after all, Star Wars fans who suffered through Jar-Jar Binks in The Phantom Menace were at least rewarded with a kick-ass light-saber fight at the end of the film. Unfortunately, the most thrilling conflicts in Atlas Shrugged revolve around disputes over ore shortages and the quality of assorted railroad metals.
And this is the most telling aspect of the film’s greatest failure: That I jumped for joy whenever one of its greedheads decided to drop out of society and head to Galt’s Gulch. Because let’s be honest, would any of us really shed a tear if Donald Trump, Lloyd Blankfein or the Koch brothers decided tomorrow to pull up their stakes and head to the Cayman Islands? If my time here on Earth has shown me anything it’s that even when some greedy assholes drop out of the game there will always be other greedy assholes eager to replace them. Any threats they make on leaving us swarthy looters to our own devices should cause us to collectively shrug.