Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
October 2012

Atlas Shrugged Part II: The Strike

Strike two

'Atlas Shrugged' is back! With a whole new cast! And you know what that means - that's right, more labored, tortured ideological messaging!

Atlas Shrugged Part II: The Strike
Atlas Distribution Company
Director: John Putch
Screenplay: Duke Sandefur, Brian Patrick O'Toole and Duncan Scott, based on the novel Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand
Starring: Samantha Mathis, Jason Beghe, Esai Morales, Patrick Fabian, Kim Rhodes, Richard T. Jones, Paul McCrane, Diedrich Bader, Ray Wise and D.B. Sweeney
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 52 minutes
(out of four)

Well, we can say this, at least: Atlas Shrugged Part II: The Strike does right by its creator. Its writing is clumsy, its characters depthless, its plotting tedious, its commentary didactic and preachy. Perhaps anyone with low enough literary standards to enjoy Ayn Rand's prose (regardless of politics) may not have any problem getting through, and appreciating, this movie. But despite greater production values this time around, The Strike is its predecessor's equal in terms of cinematic ineptitude.

Part I came out last spring, and was such a rousing success that the entire cast bailed on the sequel despite an increased budget. Which is just as well, because the crew is also new, the producers plowing forward without the creative team from the first film and picking up right where they left off. The difference - in the writing, the directing, the acting - is negligible. This entry still has that same made-for-TV quality, only with more expensive and at times elaborate production design, which is impressive in the way you might think of a Vegas hotel. Stylish and flashy in the cheapest way possible.

It says something about the standards of this series that there can be such extreme turnover both behind and in front of the camera without any noticeable difference. To Part II's benefit (if not its credit), that allows us to transition pretty seamlessly into the second part of the story. The first film ended with beleaguered oil man Ellis Wyatt setting his oil fields aflame and disappearing, joining the rest of the nation's best and brightest in self-determined exile.

His absence leaves our heroine Dagny Taggart in dire straits, and indeed as the story continues in Part II, she's struggling to stay afloat, her innovations - and her spirit! - getting trampled by the one-dimensionally tyrannical, regulation-happy, innovation-hating government and its allies. As the brains of Taggart Transcontinental, she's trying to keep her railroad going - notably the infamous John Galt Line - but the world is closing in on her. Her spineless brother James (Patrick Fabian), the face and public image of the company, isn't helping matters.

Aside from all that, Dagny's attention has been redirected toward a mysterious motor - far more advanced than anything currently in use - that could presumably provide the world with an endless supply of energy. The only mystery is finding the man who designed the thing - and even that remains a mystery only because Dagny is apparently too dense to figure out the obvious.

Meanwhile, the government is going after fellow Tortured Innovator Hank Rearden, the head of Rearden Steel who refuses to comply with a new government edict forcing companies to sell to any and all buyers, governments included.

The political workings in the script are as dull as any of the Trade Federation nonsense in the Star Wars prequels, and written with just as much wit. The whole thing is far too humorless to work as satire (undercutting any claim of genuine commentary) and too flat and lethargic to work dramatically. Consider the scenes between Dagny and Rearden - who are sleeping together despite sharing an utter lack of sexual chemistry. I mean, the least director John Putch could have done is provide some sort of visceral, sensual drive on which the rest of the movie could coast. But no, even the luridness is beyond dull.

I mentioned the casting, or re-casting, of the roles this time around - but I must confess, this cast makes for a decidedly goofy bunch of recognizable C-listers. Biff from Back to the Future! The dad from Family Ties! The bald doctor from E.R.! That Guy from Drew Carey and Office Space and Napoleon Dynamite! The guy from Penn & Teller! (No, not that one, the other one. The one who doesn't talk.)

But most important, of course, are Dagny and Rearden. And indeed they make for a confounding couple. In Part I, Dagny was played by Taylor Schilling, who was 26 at the time. In Part II, the role is played by Samantha Mathis, who is 42 - and yes, post-production team, looks it, despite all your embarrassing attempts at airbrushing. But the age difference isn't the problem - it's the performance. Mathis makes a series of baffling acting decisions that don't make any sense; at times it honestly seems like the cameraman caught her unaware in an awkward moment. Her facial expressions and body language shift nonsensically from shot to shot.

Then there's Jason Beghe, who plays Rearden as if he's playing Matt Dillon doing an impression of Christian Bale's Batman. Or maybe the other way around. Either way, gravitas has rarely been performed with such a lack of nuance.

I suppose that description is emblematic of The Strike as a whole - a feeble attempt at sober, elegant cinematic gravitas that fails to grasp even the slightest hint of how to actually be taken seriously.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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