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.