I appreciate Ewan McGregor‘s assured confidence in tackling the Pulitzer Prize winning novel “American Pastoral,” but he never should have chosen Philip Roth‘s difficult material to make his directorial debut. McGregor is capable enough as a director but his talents lie onscreen, not behind the camera. He treats this material with a pedestrian, humdrum lens and turns it into a flaccid family melodrama rather than a provocative American tragedy, which is a bit of a shame.
The subject matter, with its ‘America in turmoil’ theme and emotions boiling over with disenchantment towards the government establishment, could have been made into a timely and relevant commentary on today’s society. Instead we get a by-the-book film with little to no artistic interpretation, and the end result feels as shallow as it is hollow.
“American Pastoral” tells the story of former legendary high school athlete Swede Levov (McGregor) and his former beauty queen wife Dawn (Jennifer Connelly). The classic hardworking family finds their lives turned upside down when their rebellious teenage daughter Merry (Dakota Fanning) becomes a political terrorist during the Vietnam War.
The 1960s-era film has a few good looking scenes but everything about it feels far too staged, from the camera angles to the set design to the performances (the acting is skilled across the board, but it’s hard to truly enjoy anyone’s performance when the film itself is so bland).
This movie tries to cover far too much ground and sadly drowns in the provocative source material.