How many suitably attractive actresses declined to read for the role of Dagny Taggart — one of the great women’s roles in 20th century literature — in John Aglialoro’s film of Ayn Rand’s "Atlas Shrugged," on the theory that: "It’s just some low-budget, right-wing project being put together by some millionaire poker player with no experience that’ll be lucky to end up on Italian television, assuming it’s ever made at all"?
Thanks to the producers’ simple tactic of allowing fans to get on the Internet and directly ask major film distributors why "Atlas Shrugged" was not booked in their town, the movie (originally set to open in 11 art house theaters) opens tomorrow … on more than 300 screens, nationwide.
The mainstream reviews generally suck. "Capitalists making steel and building railroads? Those are the HEROES? And no car chases? You’re kidding me, right?" The mainstream media also claim the Tea Party is some shrivelled group of angry white racists with the bizarre notion that socialist big government is somehow destroying the economy — when in fact what we need is a 90 percent tax on "the rich" — an irrelevent remnant who will hopefully be gone in time for Barack’s next coronation.
Meantime, come Monday, how many more experienced actresses will be gritting their teeth and insisting "She’s a nobody, do you hear me? A NOBODY. She plays, like, some nurse on TV. She had a bit part in some Meryl Streep movie FOUR YEARS AGO. And now suddenly it’s "Taylor Schilling the movie star?" All of a sudden this little bitch is Jessica Lange or Sigourney Weaver or Susan Hayward? Magazines are scheduling articles titled ‘Who’s Taylor Schilling?’ This is so NOT FAIR! Have you seen her ass? I have a MUCH nicer ass!"
Now comes the film, produced by John Aglialoro and Harmon Kaslow, directed by TV actor and former (OK, Canadian) Olympic basketball player Paul Johansson from a screenplay by Brian Patrick O’Toole, with surprisingly stirring music by Elia Cmiral. Not a “movie in theory.” An actual movie, which opens nationwide April 15 (of course).
We’re spared talking heads droning on about values and self-worth — even at the risk of making some of the motivations a bit opaque. (Though it surely works to the filmmakers’ advantage that the sneering “tax-the-rich” politicians drawn from Rand’s 54-year-old novel are already so shockingly familiar from today’s evening news, where we get to see real-life politicians who are already self-made Randian caricatures.)
Instead, we get to see, at a rapid pace, the war of the snarling anti-capitalist crowd, attempting to bring down the very builders of the prosperity they envy and covet, as they pass law after law requiring the rich to divest “all but one” of their companies, requiring every successful steel firm to share its profits with its less successful competitors, etc.
(General Motors bailout, anyone?)
OK, it was filmed quickly; it’s a bit sketchy. But this “Atlas Shrugged” is, in the end, a pretty good movie — a far more important and rewarding experience than 98 percent of the stuff that’s out there, bidding for your entertainment dollar — maybe in part because, as director Johansson told one interviewer, he was raced into the project so quickly he “didn’t have time to be afraid.”
And the very best thing about this movie is the relatively unknown Taylor Schilling (“Dark Matter,” 2008) as Dagny Taggart.
The budget to hire the modern equivalent of Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal — who starred in the last notable attempt to film Rand, “The Fountainhead,” 62 years go — wasn’t there. Maybe that’s good. Here, no time is wasted with the “Longest Day” effect; audience members nudging each other and going, “Look; that’s so-and-so.”
Instead, the film became Miss Schilling’s to own or to ruin. Was it brilliance, good direction, or a lucky break? You can mark it on your calendar: April 15, 2011, is the date Taylor Schilling became a movie star.
(Rebecca Wisocky won’t get as much credit for making Lillian Rearden the perfect bitch, though I presume that takes talent, too.)
The credit goes to “Our casting director, Ronnie Yeskel,” replied co-producer Harmon Kaslow, when we spoke on the phone Tuesday. “At the moment we were casting the movie we needed credibility, and Ronnie brought that. She has the eye for great talent. You’re right, it’s a once in a lifetime role, she (Schilling) came with a lot of courage and delivered a very compelling performance. We’re just over the moon.”
See Vin’s column, Sunday:
Sidestepping studios to bring ‘Atlas Shrugged’ to the big screen