The seemingly unadaptable “Atlas Shrugged” (1957), Ayn Rand’s 1,200-page paean to unfettered American capitalism, has another suitor—or, to put it more precisely, the same suitor has returned to revive the screen version he’s been pursuing for four decades. “The Godfather” producer Albert S. Ruddy has finally acquired the rights to the novel, the New York Times reports, and hopes to turn Rand’s dystopian industrial epic into a “six- or eight-hour” TV version. (Meanwhile, “The Deer Hunter” director Michael Cimino is still determined to adapt Rand’s 1943 novel, “The Fountainhead.”)
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The history of Hollywood’s attempts to develop “Atlas Shrugged,” for film and television alike, is as tortured as Rand’s prose. Ruddy himself approached the author in the early 1970s, only to be turned down when he refused to grant Rand script approval; a planned NBC miniseries, to be written by Stirling Silliphant (“In the Heat of the Night”), struck the shoals of regime change at the network in 1979.
In 1992, ten years after Rand’s death, longtime devotee John Aglialoro purchased the rights, only to see corporate reshuffling doom the project once again—ironic, perhaps, given the Soviet-born Rand’s unabashed embrace of the free market as the route to political and creative freedom. A four-hour TNT miniseries put together by Aglialoro and Ruddy in 1999 was dropped after AOL and Time Warner merged. Lionsgate, Crusader Entertainment, and Baldwin Entertainment Group all became involved in one way or another over the next decade, to no avail.
Eventually, Aglialoro decided to do it himself, and the result was a trilogy of independent films (photo above) released between 2011 and 2014 to critical revilement and commercial disaster. “Atlas Shrugged: Part I,” starring Taylor Schilling (“Orange is the New Black”) as heroine Dagny Taggart, scored a paltry 11% rating from Rotten Tomatoes and earned less than $5 million at the box office, from a budget of $20 million. Calling critics “lemmings,” Aglialoro threatened at the time to “go on strike,” though in the end he went on to produce the final two installments.
Though “Atlas Shrugged” has been an immensely influential text in libertarian circles for years, praised by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and new Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, it’s unclear if Ruddy’s planned TV version can reach a wider audience. Hollywood has long struggled to dramatize social issues from either side of the ideological aisle, and “Atlas Shrugged,” as much a work of philosophy as it is of fiction, is heftier and more didactic than the most ambitious of “message movies.”
While it’ll be up to the as-yet-unnamed screenwriter to wrestle Rand’s book into the kind of binge-worthy serial that might attract Netflix, Amazon, or one of the other streaming services Ruddy hopes to court, we offer a few casting suggestions. Who would you like to see in an “Atlas Shrugged” miniseries? Leave your suggestions in the comments below.
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Angelina Jolie as Dagny Taggart, picking up the slack at her family’s railroad company, Taggart Transcontinental, which is led by her ineffective, anti-capitalist brother, James (Rupert Friend could play a thoughtful, sensitive heir, per this 2009 New York Times video interview). Comfortable in action, adventure, and dramatic modes, Jolie, who was once attached to play Dagny, is more than capable of enlivening Rand’s flinty heroine.
Javier Bardem as Francisco d’Anconia, Dagny’s childhood friend and first love, who bankrupts his family’s massive copper mining operation. Bardem’s passionate artist in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” has more than a little in common with the fiery, narcissistic prodigy of Rand’s novel.
Michael Shannon as John Galt, a reclusive inventor and the foremost emblem of Rand’s philosophy, which he presents in a barnstorming third-act speech. Shannon’s played the prophet of sorts before, in “Revolutionary Road” and “Take Shelter,” and he can pull off the slight menace of Rand’s visionary.
Michael Fassbender as Hank Rearden, a steel magnate sexually attracted to Dagny and undermined by his bitter wife, Lillian (Bryce Dallas Howard, who managed the cold, calculating woman at home and at work with aplomb in “The Help” and “Jurassic World.”) Fassbender has already played a man repulsed by his own sexual compulsions, in “Shame,” and he can wear the hell out of a suit.