By Sandra Kraisirideja
Ewan McGregor’s self-assured direction and a highly talented cast can’t save American Pastoral from a very frustrating conclusion.
Based on the Philip Roth novel of the same name, American Pastoral is set in the racially charged and socially radical time period that marked the late ’60s.
The themes explored in the story would be familiar to anyone who has seen The Ice Storm or Mad Men. A seemingly perfect middle class family is undone by external forces—politics, race, and war—that magnify societal differences and cause individuals to make bad decisions.
A loving couple, played by McGregor and Jennifer Connelly, learns their daughter, Merry, (Dakota Fanning) may be responsible for an act of terrorism—committed in protest of the Vietnam War—that kills an innocent bystander.
When Merry disappears right after the bombing, her parents are left to wonder if she really did it or if she was manipulated by others.
Unfortunately American Pastoral is more a melodrama than a mystery. McGregor does try to imbue the movie with an air of suspense, especially in scenes between Seymour “Swede” Levov (McGregor) and militant activist, Rita Cohen (Valorie Curry).
Curry is only in a few scenes but she makes a lasting impression. The same cannot be said for McGregor and Connelly, who lack on-screen chemistry and come across as stilted and wooden.
Fanning doesn’t fare much better.
A few things the movie does do right are thanks to the below-the-line talent. Cinematographer Martin Ruhe captures the time period’s rich color with help from production designer Daniel B. Clancy and costume designer Lindsay Mckay.
There is a big marketing push trying to make this movie out as something important because the novel won the Pulitzer Prize in 1998 and was included in Time’s All-TIME 100 Greatest Novels. Unfortunately, the movie is only mediocre.