American Pastoral Movie Review (2016)

American Pastoral review

About the movie American Pastoral

American Pastoral is a 2016 American drama film directed by Ewen Leslie and starring Ewan McGregor, Jennifer Connelly, Dakota Fanning, Uzo Aduba, Valorie Curry, and David Strathairn. Based on the 1997 novel of the same name by Philip Roth, the film tells the story of a man (McGregor) who tries to track down his missing daughter (Fanning) after she becomes involved with the Weathermen in the late 1960s.

The film received mixed reviews from critics. On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, American Pastoral has an approval rating of 45% based on 72 reviews, with an average rating of 5.6/10. The site’s critical consensus reads: “American Pastoral attempts to capture Philip Roth’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel on screen, but this adaptation proves too shapeless and dull to do the source material justice.” On Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, American Pastoral has a score of 50 out of 100, based on 22 reviews, indicating “mixed or average reviews”.

American Pastoral

American Pastoral Movie Review

Ewan McGregor’s American Pastoral, a narratively conventionalized version of the author’s big-canvas 1997 Pulitzer Prize-winning look at the decline of the family, civic and national unity from the 1940s to 1970s, is yet another example of a big-screen adaptation of Philip Roth novels that have been mixed. The tradition continues with American Pastoral, which is a narratively conventionalized version of the author’s big-canvas 1997 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama about family, civil, and national suicide over the course of three decades. Ewan McGregor’s directorial debut, in which he also stars, is decently done and provides some powerful scenes depicting the generational conflict between a concerned father and his radicalized daughter who becomes a terrorist. However, when the filmmaking is uninteresting rather than exciting and subversive, Lionsgate loses out on a lucrative October release that will not provide them much at the box office.

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The book, was Roth’s ambitious and largely successful attempt to analyze the disintegration of American society on every significant level in the 1960s, from family life, religious institutions, small business enterprises, domestic interracial conflict, political and international calamities dominated by LBJ, Nixon, and the Vietnam War. To be sure, there’s a lot of heavy subject matter here, but the author discovered a useful technique for dealing with it by using an Adonis-like Jewish sports hero named Swede, his WASP wife, and their daughter, a stutterer who is transformed by events into a Weather Underground-style rebel. Both events are paralleled by the violent self-immolation of Newark, New Jersey.

American Pastoral review

At a high school reunion, Swede’s brother Jerry (Rupert Evans) delivers the devastating fraying of the Levov family to old classmate Nathan Zuckerman (David Strathairn), who informs him that Swede has just passed away. Then there’s a brief flashback narrative of the good-looking hometown idol and, on the surface, his successful life: Here was a Jewish football star and Marine who married a shiksa Miss New Jersey (Jennifer Connelly) but, instead of aiming high, took over his family glove business and attempted to keep it going even though the community’s worst racial violence of the 1960s.

The father-daughter relationship is the focus of screenwriter John Romano’s (The Lincoln Lawyer, Nights in Rodanthe). Merry, at age 12, has a terrible stutter and an Audrey Hepburn complex. By the age of 16, Merry (now played by Dakota Fanning) has become a full-fledged revolutionary who spends as much time as possible in New York with her fellow cell members and disappears when a vast bomb destroys the local post office/general store, killing its beloved proprietor. It’s assumed that Merry is guilty of this crime.

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The most significant of these, Swede’s eventual rediscovery of his daughter in terrible circumstances, is also a transgression with far-reaching repercussions on every personal level, the most dramatic of which include Swede’s discovery of his daughter in horrible circumstances. With Fanning cast as the ever-earnest, heartbroken father and his wife Dawn closing the door on her lost cause faster than she can say “Your mother was a hamster,” the film’s finest dramatic possibilities go to her, who rises to the occasion with her best big-screen performance in years.

Compressed into less than two hours, this examination of family and social upheaval in the mid-century has a more like a checklist of ills than a sophisticated and incisive look at major seismic shifts in the domestic environment. The Newark riots are presented as a street fight, with only one block of rubble represented on screen, and select TV news clips from the Vietnamese monk’s self-immolation to LB Ja son’s attack on Paris serve as bookmarks in the landscape of 20th-century history.

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In the lead role, McGregor is a compelling example of an admirably all-American ideal, but he doesn’t provide enough nuances and colors to make the character three-dimensional or intriguing. The fine physical representation is also present, but Connelly’s performance as a former beauty queen with several regrets lacks emotional depth. Rupert Evans isn’t very good as Swede’s brother, who is far more colorfully vituperative in the book than onscreen, while Peter Riegert is terrific as Swede’s old-school Jewish father. Valorie Curry has some powerful moments as a revolutionary who taunts the searching father, and Rupert Evans appears miscast in the part of Swede’s brother, who is much less snarky in the book than he is on screen.

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Shot in Pittsburgh and the surrounding region, rather than New Jersey, the film does deliver a number of compelling dramas, but any resemblance to the book’s complexity and depth is certainly lacking.

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Ewan McGregor


Philip Roth (based on the novel by), John Romano (screenplay by)


Ewan McGregor, Jennifer Connelly, Dakota Fanning, Peter Riegert, Rupert Evans

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