Take a philosophy (or ideology, if you prefer), mix in advertising-perfect sets and scenery, add age-of-railroads industrial imagery. Don't expect it to rise. Expect a film like Atlas Shrugged, Part 1.
If you're questioning my reason for watching ASP1 (on a Blu-ray disc from Netflix), well, so am I. I had been aware that it was savaged by reviewers, but it was possible that they had let their own ideology influence their judgment -- almost all reviewers are standard off-the-shelf leftists. ASP1 is short by current movie standards (an hour and a half) and I let curiosity get the better of me.
I should acknowledge I haven't read Ayn Rand's super-sized novel. I don't expect to. The next five-pound book I read is going to be Kazantzakis's The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel, not Altas Shrugged.
ASP1 looks pretty good, in a picture-postcard, Architectural Digest way. It's shot in rich, saturated colors: interiors glowing with the patina of aged wood, the lemony light from chandeliers, Corot-silver ultramodern office corridors. Plenty of travel brochure shots of Western landscapes. Eye candy and all that, but pleasing.
The characters inhabit a world of glamour and industrial chic, set against the background of an America in economic chaos -- if it was explained why the country had sunk so low, I missed it. As to the storyline, I suppose it's familiar even to those who, like me, haven't delved into Ayn Rand's cult novel. There are three main characters: Dagny and James Taggart, sister and brother, heirs to a railroad (because of petroleum prices, the only form of mass transportation in the year 2016) and fortune; and Henry Rearden, head of a steel company.
Dagny and Henry symbolize the kind of titans Rand lauded. Almost everybody else in the movie is swinish, especially the politician characters. They don't make steel or run railroads or produce for society. They're leeches. The John Galt of the title, as I'm sure everyone knows, is a shadowy -- literally -- figure who appears at intervals to persuade the movers and shakers to drop out of sight and leave the untermenschen to their fate in a collectivist world.
It's possible that Rand's novel is not so simple-minded and didactic -- probably not, from what I've read of it, but possible. And in a less extreme form, her philosophy of Objectivism might have been a useful counterweight to the forced egalitarianism and subsidized dysfunction the Left has so successfully lumbered us with. But I can't admire the kind of people she seemed to admire. I don't want to live in a culture that has no use for ordinary people, for wisdom, for spirituality.
Let's talk about the acting. You're not going to get much satisfaction from what is on view in ASP1. Of course, it's hard labor for players to do anything with lines like, "That's a secondary cooler, to reduce the heat generated in the process" (or something like that; I quote from memory, but will try to be more precise later). I have seen none of the actors before other than Jon Polito, and in his case I wish I hadn't, then or now.
Taylor Schilling is Dagny, super-captain of industry. She shows flashes of technique that might be better employed elsewhere. Her co-titan Rearden is played by Grant Bowler, who has one of those handsome-pretty faces that soap opera casting directors like. His is one of the most abysmally uninteresting performances I've ever seen in a lead role. Some of the other poor wretches trying to make something out of nothing show signs of talent, albeit in a lost cause. The only actress who commands the screen is Rebecca Wisocky as Rearden's shrewish wife.
You may have gotten the impression that the story and dialogue are rubbish, but to describe them as such would be unfair. They are worse than rubbish. They are hilariously bad.
Actually, ASP1 is no sillier than the other film based on an Ayn Rand novel, the 1949 The Fountainhead. But that, one of the greatest follies ever committed by Hollywood, at least boasted a couple of magnetic stars, Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal.
I seem to recall that ASP1 was shot on a slender budget. The best that can be said for it is that it doesn't look cheap. The worst is that its ideas are fatuous, and the sets deserve above-the-title billing.