Posted Oct 27 2016

American Pastoral - This Roth Bombs More Than It Rocks

Dir: Ewan McGregor

Starring Ewan McGregor, Jennifer Connelly, Dakota Fanning, Peter Riegert, David Straithairn, Molly Parker

Philip Roth’s original novel dwells on the death of the American Dream. Ewan McGregor’s debut as director aims for the same, but comes off more as a truncated portrait of a man – McGregor, also – and the loss of his daughter, not so much physically as to the times around them both.

Ewan is The Swede, the archetypal post-War high school quarterbacking hero, who marries the prom queen, has a child and the perfectly pastoral American life that comes with all that. Until the 1960s dawn, and youth – in the form of his daughter Merry (Fanning) - explodes everything he has known around him, quite literally in her act of terrorism.

First and foremost, as a neophyte director, McGregor is strong on both period detail and atmosphere, and eliciting strong performances from those around him, not least himself, who is on fine form here. As the former beauty queen and latterly lost suburban mother, Connelly too is very strong, as is Fanning as the little girl lost. In a wraparound piece of exposition, Strathairn too has his moments.

Where the film lets itself down probably has more to do with the script than with McGregor’s intent. It never really manages to catch the gravitas of what you feel is struggling to be said here. It becomes more the story of one man’s search for his lost child, more than it is a look at a lost ideal, or even the lost man himself.

Like the Swede and the life he eventually finds himself landed with, there are numerous lost opportunities here to grapple with.


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