Atlas Shrugged: Part III: Who Is John Galt? (2014) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Atlas Shrugged: Part III: Who Is John Galt? (2014)

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The saga of John Galt comes to an end in this, the third part of the Atlas Shrugged cinematic series.  When last we left Dagny Taggart, she crashed her plane into a shielded compound created by John Galt while her brother James commits more of her families resources to the ongoing government takeover of private industry.  Part III is directed by James Manera and stars Laura Regan and Kristoffer Polaha.

Look into my eyesFrom the beginning, the Atlas Shrugged film series has been nothing if sincere.  There isn't a single frame among the three parts that is winking at the philosophy of Ayn Rand / John Galt, nor any indication that anyone involved was trying anything but their very best.  If all of cinema is a classroom, then the three parts of Atlas Shrugged would get a sad smile from the teacher who recognizes, gosh darn it, they're trying but just aren't very good.  So while the Martin Scorsese's and the Kathryn Bigelow's of the world get to play with the camera and building blocks the multiple creative minds behind each part of Atlas Shrugged have to make a game out of beating the chalk dust out of erasers, because that's all they're really good at.

The colon-heavy series finally comes to a conclusion with Atlas Shrugged: Part III: Who Is John Galt?  Attentive members of the audience will realize quickly that the cast and crew behind the camera has changed yet again for this third part of the series.  Rather than bring new vitality to the flagging franchise each new set of faces just slaps a different genre coat on the story and meanders along toward the conclusion.  Part I was steeped in the shadows and moody lighting of detective stories, Part II a crisp and bright style with a hint of science-fiction toward the conclusion, and now Part III is equal parts news broadcast and crime procedural.

As the old saying goes - you go to war with the army you have, and not the army you wish you had.  So John Aglialoro, the producer who spent decades trying to bring Atlas Shrugged to cinemas, has had to assemble a crew that delivers a tonally inconsistent product that loses what little weight it can carry from one installment to the next.  It's clear he never had a strong idea of what he wanted these films to communicate, nor a visual sense of how to go about it.  This becomes obvious only a few minutes into Part III when we find that the backroom dealing and media shenanigans of the first two films have devolved into a pristine drama with very rich people indirectly telling the audience how much danger they're in despite living in safe opulence.

Never fear Dagny, Supply-Side Jesus is here to rescue you!

Never fear Dagny, Supply Side Jesus is here to rescue you!

Just look at the pristine surroundings that Galt (Kristoffer Polaha) has created for those titans of industry that chose to follow him.  It's never clear who is maintaining the homes, growing the crops, or keeping things moving behind the scenes to make sure these chosen few can eat hors d'oeuvres and sip wine in perfect fields.  Never has there been a clearer celebration of capital without acknowledging the people who toil to make the system run every day.  There is one scene of a handful of people pushing a cart of copper up a track, but that's about as far as any of the Atlas Shrugged films have gone to suggest that someone might actually have to work to create this utopia.

Those images hurt the argument that the films have tried to make from the beginning.  Not once, in all three films, are we actually shown the supposedly devastating effects that government regulation has wrought either on the people or the geniuses who make it all happen.  There are a few smoky moments of people in ominous looking gear in Part III - but the riot control, the starvation, the violence that all the characters talk about?  All off-camera.  In its place are endless conversations whose optics amount to a bunch of self-satisfied rich people away at summer camp who plot the destruction of the world because they don't want to share.

The urgency of their mission is never well communicated because in three films they've gone from being wealthy people mildly pestered by the government to powerful recluses carrying out guerrilla strikes against innocent workers.  Terrorism, it seems, is not just the province of the small against the mighty, but the mighty against the average citizen to force them into a more favorable ideological stance.  So for roughly half of Part III we listen to self-satisfied people talk about the violence and havoc they are wreaking on the world as casually as any Bond villain.  Keep in mind, this image of pretty people sipping wine talking about their next terrorist strike is what Aglialoro has struggled for decades to bring to theaters, and these are the good guys.

The impossible machine that powers Galt's world is a prop that should have been kept off-screen. At best it looks like an amusement park ride. At worst, Franklin Sherman's fishmobabywhirlamagig.

The impossible machine that powers Galt's world is a prop that should have been kept off-screen. At best it looks like an amusement park ride. At worst, Franklin Sherman's fishmobabywhirlamagig.

Ayn Rand's words are not enough.  They needed images of equal power to go along with them.  There's no struggle in any of the Atlas Shrugged films, and in Part III reduces John Galt from a visionary leader to a camp counselor who leads the members of his crew with earnest speeches and snacks every day.  It's that earnestness and sincerity that brought me a little joy watching the film because of how tone-deaf some of the scenes are.  Trying to pick one moment of misguided dramatic hilarity over the rest is difficult, but my pick is the sex scene where Dagny Taggary (Laura Regan) is chased underground by Galt who is aroused by her talking about hand signals.  One runner-up is the entire concluding scenes where a moaning John Galt is electrocuted by a bad Doctor Who prop while Galt is spread out in a Jesus Christ pose, because if there's anything Ayn Rand was about it's Jesus.

The one aspect of the film where I feel bad for everyone involved is with the performances.  It's not like Regan, Polaha, and the others were following up strongly established characters in earlier films.  But they all seem so adrift, especially poor Regan who both looks and sounds like she had only a day to prepare for her role and is a half-step behind everyone with her dialogue.  The other performers slip into established archetypes almost as a coping mechanism for underwritten characters - Galt with his camp counselor Jesus approach, government agents talking like old gangsters, and scientists speaking in flustered British accents.  The best performances come from the stunt-reel of celebrity cameos, and I actually found myself enjoying the energy Glenn Beck brought to his moment because he had passion for the scene - something sorely lacking in these films.

Now that the series is over, will Atlas Shrugged be remembered for anything?  Possibly.  Bare minimum, the second and third films will be my suggestions for bad movie nights because of their bizarre shifts in style and utter sincerity.  But as a philosophical and political argument through art Atlas Shrugged is an argument by the rich, for the rich, and unlikely to convert anyone who isn't already a true believer.  The rest of us average folk will just have to wait until the powerful decide to put a bullet in us, all in the name of freedom.

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Tail - Atlas Shrugged Part IIIAtlas Shrugged: Part III: Who Is John Galt? (2014)

Directed by James Manera.
Screenplay written by James Manera, Harmon Kaslow, and John Agliarloro.
Starring Kristoffer Polaha and Laura Regan.

Posted by Andrew

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