Atlas Shrugged Part II: The Strike, the second movie in a trilogy based on Ayn Rand’s magnum opus, is tolerable as a popcorn film -- that is, if you like fairytales about evil governments, objectivist CEOs, and cursory allusions to metal bondage.
The basic plot points will be familiar to anyone who has ever read the book (or known a 16-year-old libertarian obsessed with it). As the film opens, the U.S. economy is shot. Gas is $40 per gallon, and the trains of Taggart Transcontinental offer the only affordable transportation between coasts. Desperate government agents have given the economic theories of Diocletian another chance. They freeze prices, wages, and employment, and attempt to nationalize the major industries. Egotists Dagny Taggart, bombshell rail executive, and Henry Rearden, CEO of Rearden Steel and inventor of a miraculous new metal, fight for the independence of their corporations by day and shag by night. The rest of the country’s talent is mysteriously disappearing, destroying their work in the process, and leaving only notes written with a question, "Who is John Galt?" Playboy industrialist Francisco D’Anconia (picture the "Most Interesting Man in the World" from those Dos Equis ads, except younger) appears from time to time to ask, in his sultry Spanish tones, if Dagny and Rearden are ready to wash their hands of their pointless struggle and join the other heroes of industry in Atlantis, a secret land where the market always solves.
Producer and backer John Aglialoro, in opening remarks at the Oct. 2 premiere in Washington, D.C., attacked the critics of the first film, Part I, for mocking its philosophy of individualism rather than doing their job by judging it on style. "The critics prostituted their profession for politics," he said. But Part II has little going for it artistically. The camera work is uninventive; during the opening sequence, in media res, a twin-prop rolls and pitches dramatically through mountain valleys, but when the scene cuts to a shot from the nose looking back into the cockpit, the plane is perfectly steady. Later in the film, when the plot comes back around, the same sequence is repeated frame for frame, with all the drama of a drinking companion retelling his favorite joke.
Further, Mr. Aglialoro’s criticism is odd considering that politics, not art, dictated the movie’s creation. The film seemed driven by the producers, not the director John Putch, who wasn't present for the premiere. Production was timed with the express purpose of cinematic release before election day. It’s a political commentary, and the audience was asked to think of it in that light. Producer Harman Kaslow told TAS that the film is an evangelistic tool for young conservatives who "never crossed that barrier in a friendship to talk about free markets," and he said it would appeal to independents who haven't made up their minds between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.
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