Some Notable Atlas Shrugged Movie Reviews: P.J. O'Rourke, Kyle Smith, and Others

In the comments of a previous post rounding up some Atlas Shrugged Part I reviews, roystgnr asked, "to avoid wasting everyone's time, could we just post reviews by people who dislike Rand's politics but liked the movie and reviews by people who like Rand's politics but disliked the movie?" Since I aim to please, here's the New York Post's libertarian-leaning film reviewer and underrated columnist, Kyle Smith:

[T]he movie's chief flaws — on-the-nose-dialogue, a cheesy score, no-name actors — are fixable, and it is alive with the potency of Rand's convictions. "Atlas Shrugged" is a rough draft of a movie, but one that's good enough to renew interest in the story's cinematic possibilities. [...]

"Atlas Shrugged" is like the Bible (the only title that outscored it in an unscientific 1991 survey that asked readers which books had most influenced them). Neither is to be taken literally. Each makes a lot of valid points. [...]

Most movies, even movies that earn many times what "Atlas Shrugged" will make at the box office, don't matter. "Hop" and "Sucker Punch" are not going to create any activists, stir any conversation, make people want to read more about the subject. Despite playing on only a couple of hundred screens (and only covering the first third of the novel), "Atlas Shrugged" is going to have an impact. It'll make kids want to read the book, it'll get argued about on widely read blogs, it'll make some viewers question their assumptions: Why is it, exactly, that we are supposed to hate successful businessmen? [...]

This is Rand's moment: Her demon vision, despite the odor of brimstone and the screech of axe-grinding that envelops it, seems less and less unimaginable. For all its stemwinders, its cardboard capitalists and villainous bureaucracy, "Atlas Shrugged" makes ringing statements: that wealth has to be created before it can be divided up, that government isn't necessarily your friend, that the business of America is business.

Libertarian-leaning current events funnyman P.J. O'Rourke, in the Wall Street Journal:

Atlas shrugged. And so did I.

The movie version of Ayn Rand's novel treats its source material with such formal, reverent ceremoniousness that the uninitiated will feel they've wandered without a guide into the midst of the elaborate and interminable rituals of some obscure exotic tribe. [...]

In "Atlas Shrugged–Part I" a drink is tossed, strong words are bandied, legal papers are served, more strong words are further bandied and, finally, near the end, an oil field is set on fire, although we don't get to see this up close. There are many beautiful panoramas of the Rocky Mountains for no particular reason. And the movie's title carries the explicit threat of a sequel.

But I will not pan "Atlas Shrugged." I don't have the guts.  If you associate with Randians—and I do—saying anything critical about Ayn Rand is almost as scary as saying anything critical to Ayn Rand.  What's more, given how protective Randians are of Rand, I'm not sure she's dead.

The woman is a force.  But, let us not forget, she's a force for good.

Are there libertarian-agnostic non-Rand-fans who've liked the movie? I haven't found any yet, though Preview Week is still young. There were some notable savagings by Variety and the Hollywood Reporter, though. Plus this newspaper editorial from the apparently existing Harrisonburg (Va.) Daily News Record, headlined "Objectively Evil: The Truth About 'Atlas Shrugged.'" Sample from that:

A staple of modern libertarian thinking in some ways codified into the law, Objectivism is radically anti-Christian, denies the natural and moral law and assumes that man exists solely as an individual whose highest goal is satisfying his cupidity and concupiscence. It suggests that mankind is a collection of aimless atoms that bounce off of each other occasionally, but otherwise bear no selfless reciprocal duties or imperatives. Indeed, Rand thought selfishness was a virtue.

Such an ideology denies reality. For one thing, history teaches us that mankind everywhere has always lived under some political authority. As well, men and women are not just individuals, but members of families, communities and towns who work and live together. The natural and moral law, as well as revelation, commands them to be good members of society and to love one another as they love themselves. The law commands this not because a neighbor demands it, but because God expects it as a matter of charity and justice, although he leaves men free to disobey him. Rand vigorously and viciously rejected these simple Christian injunctions.

Objectivism, then, is objectively evil, the merits of Rand’s arguments about collectivism regardless. [..]

So perhaps the conservatives ought to stop buzzing about this film and learn something about the atheist rationalism Rand espoused and the torment it has visited upon the world.

You'll definitely want to click through that last link....

Reason.tv's latest Atlas Shrugged vid here; our Ayn Rand page here. Read the behind-the-scenes Brian Doherty feature that everybody's now catching up to, then wash it down with his December 2009 chronicle of Rand's post-TARP resurgence. Cathy Young's "Ayn Rand at 100" remains a lightning rod of controversy, and this Manuel S. Klausner tale of how Rand almost sued Reason is one of my very favorite things.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    Gotta say, I expected this, but it still hurts. Glad I got inoculated to the disappointment of bad movie adaptations by seeing countless Christian movies in my misspent youth (don't ask). And what a gem of a review that last one was!

    From the excerpt:

    "The law commands this not because a neighbor demands it, but because God expects it as a matter of charity and justice, although he leaves men free to disobey him."

    The irony of a "pro-Christian" newspaper having the state do something that even God doesn't do (leave men free to disobey Him).

  • ||

    Come on, you loved The Silver Chalice and you know it. Be honest.

  • ||

    The article does make a couple of good points though. Rand completely rejected religion to the point that I still run across people today who assert that atheism is the foundation of libertarianism. And Rand's hyper-individualism is indeed hostile to the family and community.

  • ||

    All I know is when I wear my Reason Ayn Rand T-shirt, I get hit on like crazy.
    I've got 3 extra in my closet, just in case they're discontinued.

  • Colin||

    And normally you don't get hit on?

    Really?

  • ||

    When wearing civilian clothes, my "hit rate" is respectable but hardly setting new records.

    But when adorned in Randian attire, I swear, I totally clean up. Maybe the sex scenes in Atlas Shrugged are better than I remember..?

  • Spiny Norman||

    Are these shirts still available?

  • Rock Action ||

    You prompted a search. The link below should do it. If you still get hoodie girl in your ads, just click her. And if she's no longer around, may I make a humble request to bring her back?

    http://www.cafepress.com/reasonmag

  • Rock Action ||

    This is much better. I took a little more search time, and this is what I found.

    http://www.zazzle.com/reason+magazine+gifts

  • Fiscal Meth||

  • ||

    That's because Rand's heroic females all put out on command to any heroic male. Wearing that shirt is a big advertisement to males to express their individualism and self-interest.

  • ||

    Ayn Rand's tendentious caricatures set back the cause of liberty decades.

  • C'mon, Rob||

    She had some finely-crafted cardboard-cutout characters.

  • Colin||

    There was one character I liked from the novel, and that was Dangy sister-in-law -- the only person in the whole book who seemed real.

  • Slap the Enlightened!||

    Like pointing out Bob Dylan couldn't carry a tune in a bucket, that's true as far as it goes. But then, it's also just as beside the point.

  • ||

    You know, I've thought that myself about the villains. The only problem is that so many damned people seem eager to actually top them.

  • cynical||

    Her heroes belong on the pages of a comic book, but her villains are depressingly believable.

  • robc||

    I keep pointing this out every time some official makes an announcement that I swear the cribbed straight from Rand.

    Amazingly lifelike cardboard cutouts her villians are. Or we are living in Flatland.

  • Jerry||

    To a Gulag - go!

  • Interesting||

    That anyone would say that about a vehement critic of the gulags.

  • Muddy Muddskipper||

    Ayn Rand was a communist? I had no idea. (Apropos of nothing, I hate ReasonTV. At least when the articles are crap, it doesn't take five minutes to skim them.)

  • Colin||

    "[T]he movie's chief flaws — on-the-nose-dialogue"

    I guess that means they lifted it directly from the novel.

  • JD||

    Plus this newspaper editorial from the apparently existing Harrisonburg (Va.) Daily News Record, headlined "Objectively Evil: The Truth About 'Atlas Shrugged.'"

    Ah, the newspaper from my hometown, where the top stories of the day are that some company wants to build a power plant powered by chicken crap and that a basketball player from the local university may go into the WNBA.

    My family actually knows the guy who writes the editorials for the paper. My brother likes to describe him as a Christofascist, and I don't think he is far off the mark.

  • ||

    Please, the polite term is "Christfag".

  • ||

    BTW Gene Scott fans, google video has the Herzog documentary:

    http://video.google.com/videop.....274394128#

  • ||

    Those reviews were useless. They're tiptoeing around whether it is any good by constantly referring to the book or her ideas. Which says to me that it's bad. Not Battlefield Earth bad, not I Am Legend bad, but bad enough.

    I say we force NutraSweet to go see it first and then he can report to us. He needs to take one for the team anyway.

  • robc||

    You seem to have made up your mind based off the trailer.

    Interestingly, the trailer was much better than I expected. Maybe I started with lower expectations. Or dont mind made-for-tv-movie quality cinematography.

  • ||

    Not really. I do this for every movie that comes out that I have any interest in; I try and look at previews, trailers, commercials, frequency of commercials, reviews, etc. For instance, if a movie has a commercial playing every five minutes on TV, and then that immediately stops as soon as the movie opens, it means that it's terrible and is also under-performing already. This stuff is amazingly consistent, and the small bits of info I've been able to cull on Atlas Shrugged are setting off my Spider-Sense with a setting of "not good".

    It's just a gut feeling, and I'd like to be wrong, but I've gotten pretty good at this.

  • robc||

    I guess the question is "not good" an absolute standard or a "for a $10M budget" relative standard?

    Because Im expecting Lifetime movie quality. And I thought the trailer looked good for a Lifetime movie.

  • robc||

    Plus, you know, Armin Shimmerman, so I know it has to be good.

  • ||

    The budget isn't really relevant after a certain point if you don't have megastars to pay or stupid Michael Bay-esque special effects.

    Peter Jackson's Braindead cost two million and is amazing. Videodrome cost six million.

  • ||

    Peter Jackson's Braindead cost two million and is amazing. Videodrome cost six million.

    Have you seen monster?

    i think it cost 60k and that included the special effects.

  • ||

    Are you talking about the Charlize Theron Monster? That cost eight million.

  • ||

    Monsters

  • IceTrey||

    I don't think 6 million in 1983 was cheap.

  • Ted S.||

    Because Im expecting Lifetime movie quality.

    So you're expecting this movie to be all about how John Galt and the other men oppress Dagny Taggart?

  • ||

    Worked for "Enough"...

  • ||

    Lifetime quality means Dagny will develop an eating disorder and oops! get date raped again and again...

  • ||

    Oh it seems battlefield earth bad to me.

    I think the main problem, when reading about how it was made, is that the people paying for it want to "make a statement". As opposed to someone making it thinking "this book is popular and controversial, which means I can potentially make a lot of money"

    If someone made it for the 2nd reason, it might end up a good movie (and like all "factual" movies full of made up stuff for entertainment), but sadly it was funded by a rand evangelist wannabe.

  • ||

    arg i didn't mean factual I meant, based on a book, having things not in the book, like them all. sigh.

  • ||

    I think at its very worst, it may be "Watchmen" bad, which is to say, almost so devoted to the text, it forgets that even the source material wasn't perfect.

  • A_is_A||

    ^THIS. I'm a Watchmen fanboy, and I tell you, I'm getting the same exact feeling of dread-filled inevitability going in to A.S. that I did when Watchmen came out. At least we'll get to see Mouch and the gang ruin America all over again.

  • ||

    Of course, the problem is that most of the reviewers who hate Ayn Rand's philosophy aren't going to openly say so in the review.

    Nevertheless, I would never expect the film to be very good. The cards in Hollywood are stacked against it.

  • Brian E||

    Hell, the book was stacked against it pretty deeply. (To be fair, just one copy of Atlas Shrugged counts as a stack by itself.)

  • ||

    Angelina Jolie agreed to play in an earlier version of the film; Rupert Murdoch owns 20th Century Fox and could have made it; the Wall Street Journal panned it and the Washington Times gave it 2.5 stars out of 5, saying that it was something that Randistas should see just becuz... Face it, the film stinks. Would any of the heros of the book go to see it?

  • johnl||

    I am going to try to watch it on the first day, in case it's so bad there is no second day.

  • ||

    I'm going to see it friday. I will objectively report results.

    Anyone who wants to come along and drink and discuss afterward- Fort Worth Movie Tavern 7:20pm. I'll be the fat dude in the ballcap that doesn't make leftist propaganda films.

  • robc||

    I also will report back after seeing it on Friday.

  • ?||

    Hulen or Ridgemar

  • ||

    WEST 7TH DOWNTOWN.

  • rather ||

    OK, I'll go to the other theatre

  • Jim||

    If you weren't going so early, I'd be there. I'm a Plano-ite, but don't get off of work until 8 p.m.

  • rather||

    Holy shit, FW ain't safe

  • robc||

    As the hit&run; token evangelical, I feel the need to rip that final review apart.

    As well, men and women are not just individuals, but members of families, communities and towns who work and live together.

    In other words, like Galt's Gulch. There is nothing anti-family about AS, in fact, it celebrates stay at home motherhood. The one mother in the valley considered her work to be raising her kids.

    The natural and moral law, as well as revelation, commands them to be good members of society and to love one another as they love themselves.

    The heroes did treat others this way. They interacted with others how they wanted to be interacted with, as free men capable of making their own decisions.

    The law commands this not because a neighbor demands it, but because God expects it as a matter of charity and justice, although he leaves men free to disobey him.

    The irony of them statement has already been pointed out above, but to quote CS Lewis, "if it [government] adds to its commands, 'Thus saith the Lord', it lies, and lies dangerously".

  • robc||

    The squirrels are having fun, ONNTA posted before me as the timestamps indicate, have no idea why my post is above.

  • ONNTA||

    The funniest part of Rourke's review is the Randians would gut him just for saying she's a force for good.

  • BoscoH||

    The funniest part is that he clearly knows that :-).

  • ||

    I guess that would all depend on the individual watching the movie.

    www.total-privacy.it.tc

  • ||

    I am sure there are precedents for turning a shit book into a good movie, but probably not when the film makers are cultists of the author.

    Seriously, this whole Ayn Rand thing is just about the most embarrassing about many libertarians--which, I suppose, is pretty minor compared to the embarrassing things about Democans and Republicrats. Still, it is FUCKING embarrassing. Are you guys ever going to move on from this childish bitch or what?

  • ||

    Mike Hunt

    childish

    ...

  • ||

    No question. But I am just a dork posting comments on Hit & Run--I don't have a legion of followers slobbering over my every word as some kind of secular revelation.

  • JoshINHB||

    Seriously, this whole Ayn Rand thing is just about the most embarrassing about many libertarians--

    The whole the antebellum south was really libertopia and Lincoln was a proto-Hitler meme should be way more embarrassing than Rand lovers.

    Which is saying a lot.

  • ||

    Fair point, especially today.

  • ||

    This is asinine. People who criticize Lincoln's unconstitutional use of power are not defending the CSA. The man threw thousands in jail without trial, placed American civilians under military justice (in states like Indiana and Ohio) and ordered the deliberate destruction of the food supply in the South.

    You can say that Hitler was a bastard without defending Stalin.

  • ||

    I am sure there are precedents for turning a shit book into a good movie

    All three of the Lord of the Rings movies are light years better then those shitty shitty books.

  • IceTrey||

    Since Rand made it clear Objectivism was an extension of Aristotelianism I guess he was a childish bitch too. Let's not forget Socrates was a little punk too.

  • ||

    history teaches us that mankind everywhere has always lived under some political authority.

    the 3 inch spear head in my hip says "FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU.......

  • ||

    So perhaps the conservatives ought to stop buzzing about this film and learn something about the atheist rationalism Rand espoused and the torment it has visited upon the world.

    You'll definitely want to click through that last link....

    So wait Ayn Rand is a communist?

    Who knew?

  • Ralph Swanson||

  • ||

    Good evening, Ayn Rand, a sociopath, wrote bad fiction. Those who may worship her do so for their own selfish purposes. Randians would destroy the public commons of Adam Smith.

  • Ancap||

    There's nothing like, watching a bunch of clowns, attacking their intellectual and moral superior...

  • ||

    There's nothing like, watching a bunch of clowns, attacking their intellectual and moral superior...

    Oh that brings back fond memories of Gius Marus

  • Jim||

    If you're talking about the posters attacking Rand, you should know that she was avidly against anarcho capitalism, so I'm not sure why you'd call her their "superiors" if your handle indicates your political preference.

  • rather||

    She was also against government help but took it

  • Ancap||

    So what?

    It's called restitution...

  • rather||

    restitution?
    Show me the accounting.

  • Ancap||

    Taxes were extorted from her, for all of her life...

    Anything else I can help you with?

  • rather||

    She didn't live in the US all her life!

  • rather||

    Unlike Madonna, she picked up her accent the old-fashioned way

  • Ancap||

    Effective communication necessitates the use of generalities...

    But if you keep digging for the non-essentials, perhaps you'll even discover, that she took a short holiday across the border...

    Glad I could help...

  • rather||

    The facts are the facts are the facts

  • Ancap||

    The irrelevant is irrelevant, hence... irrelevant.

    But if you insist on being irrelevant, hey, knock yourself out...

  • rather||

    I love how you little boys use personal attacks when you can't back up your argument-it's so middle school

  • Ancap||

    Nevertheless, it's apparently way beyond your own educational level...

  • rather||

    Hmm, still can't think of how to find out the facts? Self-doubt is a bitch, isn't it?

  • Peter||

    Um, where was this personal attack? I don't see one.

  • rather||

    new here?

  • Ancap||

    Irrelevant!

  • rather||

    Ok, you can be funny

  • Peter||

    How is whether or not I'm new here relevant?

  • rather||

    search 'rather', and remember that more than half the posts aren't mine. I'm pretty much universally hated on this site-fun!

  • Ancap||

    As with all his other irrelevancies, there actually wasn't one...

  • rather||

    beyond your own education level is flattery?

  • Ancap||

    The facts are the facts are the facts

  • rather||

    lol
    OK, you amused me

  • Ancap||

    Cheers!

    ;-)

  • rather||

    Besides I like animals-even a Struthio camelus

  • ||

    Do you see the humor in insulting him (?) as a "little boy) while decrying his "personal attacks"?

  • rather ||

    Spence, I was only playing with you about the movies :-)

    Do you live downtown?

  • Somalian Road Corporation||

    Just because you protest the bread line doesn't mean you have to disavail yourself of it.

  • Very liberal friends of Epi||

    ya

  • Ancap||

    Jim...

    Pleeease...

  • Cyto||

    Ouch... I got whiplash! Objectivism = Communism. Wow,that was spectacular.

    I was going to come back with a rejoinder that Christian Conservatism and Muslim Fundamentalism are the same thing... but then I realized that my counter-example really isn't that far off. Hardly the polar opposites I was looking for to counter the rand/commie link.

  • Tony||

  • Fiscal Meth||

    Reaching

  • Jerryskids||

    From the editorial: Objectivism, which deifies the individual, is the flip side of Communism, which deifies the state. These twin ideologies have one thing in common: atheism and a burning hatred of a Divinely-ordained objective moral order. Rand was a nasty atheist. Both ideologies are rooted in the Enlightenment........

    Cyto|4.12.11 @ 9:29AM|#

    Ouch... I got whiplash! Objectivism = Communism. Wow,that was spectacular.

    I was going to come back with a rejoinder that Christian Conservatism and Muslim Fundamentalism are the same thing... but then I realized that my counter-example really isn't that far off.

    No, you hit that square on the head. These people are arguing an issue that I thought most people thought was settled several hundred years ago. Forget trying to bring them into the 21st century, hell, they need to be brought into the 15th century first!

    And given the hint "this newspaper editorial from the apparently existing Harrisonburg (Va.) Daily News Record", sadly, no this is not a spoof site. There really is a real newspaper publishing real editorials like this.

  • ||

    It's not often one encounters "cupidity and concupiscence" in the same sentence.

  • x,y||

    I humbly suggest that the reason staff create a movie-review thread on Friday to allow us to post our reviews in the same place.

  • Joe M||

    Are there libertarian-agnostic non-Rand-fans who've liked the movie? I haven't found any yet...

    Yeah, good luck with that.

  • ||

    Atlas Shrugged is the Libertarian Passion of the Christ.

  • ||

    Rottentomatoes gave the movie a score of 5 out of 100. The only quasi-positive review was from Kyle Smith of the New York Post, and his was more idiological that artistic. Even the Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenthern, a Pulitzer Prize critic, panned this clunker of a move. As for there being a liberal/Hollywood conspiracy about keeping Atlas Shrugged off the silver screen, Rupert Murdoch owns 2oth Century Fox -- even business men like him can't see the profit in turning everything into propaganda (although he does try at Fox News, and reaps a good profit from it).

  • ||

    Well..as a simple man, amused by simple things..I view movies as I view literature. I prefer to view and interpret for myself..minus a middleman telling me WHAT to think, or have someone translate supposed meanings. Im actually a non atheist/agnostic, faith based person who does ascribe to self worth and independent profit motives..so to that point, the movie held true to text. I enjoyed the movie as an escape from the usually mindless drivel that is lauded on a daily basis. Its a movie that does inspire conversation and some deeper internal retrospection..which, isn't a bad thing.

  • ||

    Ayn Rand was able to make a lot of money because of collectively produced infrastructure. Copyright laws (their and enforcement), highways (delivering truckloads of her drivel), airports (FAA, e.g.), and on and on and on. How was taxing her income in any way "theft"?

    What did Aristotle say about free-riding?

  • John Nagle||

    As one reviewer wrote, "Of course, "action" is a strong word. Most of these scenes consist of people drinking in hotel lobbies, drinking at restaurants, drinking at cocktail parties, and drinking in their bedrooms. In between, they do a little bit of striding purposefully. Also, sometimes they sit behind improbably neat desks. When drama is required, they stand up."

    That's about right. Also, they ride in limos a lot.

    None of these "productive people" are ever seen actually DOING anything. At the start of the film, Dagny Taggart gets a call that there's been a train wreck on her line, and rushes to her office. But once she gets there, she doesn't do much, except order some new rails. She doesn't head for the wreck. Doesn't give orders to get recovery equipment moving. Doesn't send her top troubleshooter to deal with the problem. Reminds me of the CEO of TEPCO.

    When she goes to watch track being laid, she has no interaction with the people doing the work. She shows up in a dress and heels, not a hard hard and work boots, the sort of thing that gets snickers from the workers. She's supposedly a metallurgist, but she never takes a close look at a Reardon Metal rail. She should have been shown inspecting a weld or something. (That may be simply that CSR Engineering, the real track-work firm laying those rails, didn't want the film crew interfering with a real job.)

    Hank Reardon has an office window looking out on a pipe mill. (The view from the window is inconsistent with the depth of his office. Sloppy.) But he's never actually seen on a plant floor. Or in a lab; he supposedly invented Reardon Metal, after all. (Or did he just take the credit?)

    The overall impression is of hands-off CEOs being carried by unseen competent people below them. That wasn't the intent, but that's how it looks on screen.

  • Sanity||

    The reviews above sure didn't help the movie.

    "Atlas Shrugged" Producer Scrapping Plans For Pt. 2 & 3, Blames Reviews

    http://t.co/Xc4QizA

  • Richard ||

  • Curmudgeon||

    Facebook poll: 76% award the movie 5 stars out of 5.

    US News & World Report poll: 70% say they will definitely watch it, and another 13% or so say "Maybe if it comes out on DVD" - which it has.

    No surprise that movie critics don't like it. It's partially about them, about telling the rest of us what to think, about dumbing us down (which is how Hollywood likes us). Maybe they should occupy Wall Street, that would be a greater public service than reviewing movies, in the sense that their political propaganda masked as movie reviews would go away. But of course, it won't.

    So, more than two-thirds of the public are devout libertarian-agnostics? Yeah, and Sara Palin is stupid.

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