American Pastoral (2016)

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Released:  Friday, October 28, 2016  
Length:  126 minutes
Studio: Lionsgate
Genre: Drama/Suspense
Rating: American Pastoral is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of AmericaUnder 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.


Synopsis

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning Philip Roth novel, AMERICAN PASTORAL follows an all American family across several decades, as their idyllic existence is shattered by social and political turmoil that will change the fabric of American culture forever. Ewan McGregor (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Beginners) makes his directorial debut and stars as Seymour “Swede” Levov, a once legendary high school athlete who is now a successful businessman married to Dawn, a former beauty queen. But turmoil brews beneath the polished veneer of Swede’s life. When his beloved daughter, Merry, disappears after being accused of committing a violent act, Swede dedicates himself to finding her and reuniting his family. What he discovers shakes him to the core, forcing him to look beneath the surface and confront the chaos that is shaping the modern world around him: no American family will ever be the same. AMERICAN PASTORAL also stars Academy Award® winner Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind ) as Dawn, Dakota Fanning (The Runaways, The Twilight Saga) as Merry, Emmy® winner Uzo Aduba (Orange Is the New Black), and Academy Award® nominee David Strathairn (Lincoln, Good Night, and Good Luck).

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American Pastoral Theatrical Review


Phillip Roth's (The Human Stain) Pulitzer Prize winning novel American Pastoral is a commentary of 1960's America and the "All-American" white middle class family.  With gripping insight, turmoil, despair, and, ironically, a misguided sense of hope, it chronicles the rise and fall of the not so charmed life of the Levovs and how the Vietnam War altered them forever.  It's only natural that it would be ripe for a film adaptation but it took almost 20 years to finally hit theaters.  Opening this week, the movie doesn't quite capture the same feel as the book though.

Seymour "The Swede" Levov (Ewan McGregor; Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace) was the star of his high school.  With his striking good looks and Athletic abilities he seemed to have it all.  When he married a former Miss New Jersey and helped to run the family's successful glove business, it seemed he had pretty much everything he could ask for.  When their daughter, Merry (Dakota Fanning; The Twilight Saga), was born, it only seemed as if their star shined brighter.

Before she was even a teenager, though, Merry showed signs of being a troubled youth; fighting with her parents, moody, etc.   When the Vietnam War broke out and the country became divided, Merry choose to rebel and, eventually, after being accused of blowing up the local post office, went into hiding.  That moment was the downfall of the Levov "Camelot".  A family torn apart, never to be healed again.

Fanning is at her best in this film as the troubled youth and she explores a range of emotions that alternately infuriates and evokes pity from the audience.  McGregor is much better as Swede than he is as the director.  His portrayal of the heartbroken father is real, raw and poignant.  Jennifer Connelly (Blood Diamond) rounds out this threesome nicely as Dawn, the nice "catholic girl" who can't understand her daughter's hatred.

As a first effort, McGregor's directorial debut is lacking, but perhaps he chose to bite off a huge chunk by taking on a literary masterpiece.  Roth's novel is fierce and ferocious, while the movie is tame in comparison.  It is beautifully shot from a cinematic point of view, but the scenes tend to be full of standard clichés that can come across as lame and contrite.

To be fair, the subject matter is heavy and ripe with anger and outrage, which can be lost in translation, especially when the plot needs to be truncated to fit in the usual two-hour perimeter. Unfortunately, the film doesn't capture much of the essence of what was really going on in the country at that time, so it never fully realizes the angst the country, and in turn Swede, Dawn and Merry, faced.

From the beginning, the trailer looked as if the film was going to be dark and depressing and it certainly delivered those things.  Unfortunately, it didn't seem to deliver the same punch to the gut that the book managed to do.  Even though it was well acted, the rest was just too much and too sad for it to live up to the novel.

Grade: C-

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