After a short break, we head in from the meeting room to the screening room. For all the mockery, for all the liberal gloating about box-office numbers, the first Atlas film accidentally cast too many successful actors. Taylor Schilling, the original Dagny Taggart, went on to co-star in The Lucky One and the upcoming Ben Affleck movie about the Iran hostage crisis. “She’s a bona fide movie star now,” says Aglialoro. So she’s been replaced by Samantha Mathis, a ’90s star who’s been mounting a kind of comeback. The rest of the cast is also new. It’s libertarian cinema by way of Doctor Who.
And it completely changes the tone of the story. Schilling’s Taggart was all ice and sneers, storming into meetings without disturbing her bouffant. Mathis replaces the sneer with a pout. “Where are they?” she asks her assistant Eddie, as they ride through an emptied-out Manhattan, fueled by $40/gallon gas. “Where are the people who could make a difference?”
“I’m sitting next to one of them,” says Eddie. Taggart/Mathis holds back a sigh.
Our Rearden in Atlas I was Grant Bowler, who treated the character like a smart fed-up tech whiz beset by Asperger’s syndrome. He’s been replaced by Jason Beghe, who woke up hung-over and crammed his mouth full of gravel. His wife catches him coming home from a night with Dagny (in a very un-Rand touch, we don’t see them having sex), and he dares her to divorce him while he changes into fresh clothes.
This casting change definitely works. Rearden has to deliver the big speech of Part II, when he’s called in to a star chamber for selling his metal to a friend and violating the government’s new “Fair Share” law. (In the novel, it’s the “Equalization of Opportunity” law.) On the page, Rearden’s speech is pretentious in all the best ways. “It is not your particular policy I challenge, but your moral premise,” he says. “If it were true that men could achieve their good by means of turning some men into sacrificial animals, and I were asked to immolate myself for the sake of creatures who wanted to survive at the price of my blood, if I were asked to serve the interests of society apart from, above, and against my own—I would refuse.” Onscreen, Rearden/Beghe boils this down into a short defense of “job creators.” And it works! The Rand-curious audience wants to stand up and cheer for this hard-working, word-chewing businessman who’s just trying to pour some damn metal.
But that really is the high point. We get two action scenes—a plane chase and two trains colliding in the “Taggart Tunnel”—but the fullness of Rand’s message can only be delivered through boardroom scenes and phone calls and meetings in Washington. Most of these scenes are deadly. Your fun, as a viewer, may come from an impromptu game of “hey, it’s that guy!” The chairman of the Taggart board—Biff from Back to the Future. The “head of state” (not president)—Ray Wise, the evil dad from Twin Peaks. The talkative security guard—funny enough, that’s Teller of Penn & Teller, protecting her from people waving "We Are the 99%!" signs.
When the third installment comes, in July 2014, we’ll probably get another all-new cast. “It’s hard to lock people down,” says Aglialoro. It’s the great cultural paradox of the Tea Party age. Rand’s dramatic work of dystopian horror can teach Republicans how to think, but it’s teeth-pullingly hard to keep distributors and audiences interested.
“The left dismisses Ayn Rand,” he says. “The version of her that they attack is childish, it’s a cartoon.” But he understands why.” I wish she didn’t say ‘selfishness’ as she did. That she was for ‘selfishness.’ She was human, and probably meant that in a rhetorical way. But if she was on this earth again, maybe she’d put it another way.”
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