Passion of Ayn Rand [1999]

Passion is not one of those words usually associated with the controversial author Ayn Rand, unless one is speaking of her controversial ideas. Her novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged made egoism a virtue, and her philosophy of objectivism, which she defiantly trumpeted in the face of criticism, proclaimed self-interest was a patriotic virtue. For 15 years she also used her philosophy to justify an affair with her "intellectual heir" (as she proclaimed him) Nathaniel Branden. This made-for-cable drama, based on the memoir by Barbara Branden (Nathaniel's wife), hones in on this clash between her ideas and her emotions. Helen Mirren is sharp and intense as the demanding, often icy Rand, playing down her striking features to become severe and plain. Eric Stoltz brings an insidious mix of charm and calculation to Nathaniel, a sycophantic devotee who espouses the gospel of intellectual honesty while compromising himself at every turn. Peter Fonda and Julie Delpy are the wounded spouses who endure their open affair. It's an unusually handsome film for a cable production, and the cool jazz score beautifully sets both the era and the mood of the film. Director Christopher Menaul, who previously directed Mirren in the brilliant British miniseries Prime Suspect, is fascinated by the hypocrisies justified by love and jealousy. While he's critical of Rand's philosophy and the cultlike following it spawns, he is nonetheless respectful of her intellect and devotion to her ideas, contradictions and all. --Sean Axmaker

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