Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Phillip Roth, we have Ewan McGregor doing double time in this one, a.k.a directing and starring in “AMERICAN PASTORAL”. Truthfully, I struggled a lot in my viewing of this one, as the acting often seemed forced, the script failed throughout, and there were a couple of performances that just left me blank. Overall the film was quite miscast and maybe this is what lead to me not really believing in a single character.
Told in flashback mode from the viewpoint of Nathan Zuckerman (David Strathairn) at a high school reunion is the first thing right off the bat, that didn’t make a lot of sense and seemed to set the tone for the rest of the film doing the same. The film goes on to tell us the story of a high school jock who was blessed with everything ~ good looks, incredible skill at everything he did and a profitable women’s glove business that he would one day inherit and run for his father. Seymour Levov (Ewan McGregor) otherwise known as ‘Swede’ marries Dawn (Jennifer Connelly), the ex-Miss New Jersey. They have a daughter, Merry (Dakota Fanning/Hannah Nordberg/Ocean James), and prosper in the suburbs of New Jersey. Merry grows up with a nasty stutter and a strange attachment to her father, one that set off weird alarm bells for me and I’m guessing most of the viewing audience as well, as it really comes off as just plain creepy.
From there, Merry grows into an angry rebellious young woman who rages against the United States and a deep hatred of President Lyndon Johnson, the Vietnam war and pretty much anything that ends up in her path. Her parents feel themselves starting to losing control of her and finally she leaves after it seems she bombed the local post office, killing a local resident and family friend. Merry goes under ground and is protected by a network of radicals who continue with their plots and killing more unknowingly innocent people along the way. Gradually the nightmare of not knowing where she is or what she is doing unhinges Dawn and she has a full-scale nervous breakdown. She is slowly able to let go of Merry but Swede can’t seem to do the same, as he finally finds her years later, but she is not even a close semblance of what she once was in one of the oddest scenes of the film to be sure.
All this would make a great story if there was even the remotest of explanations as to how it happens. One day Merry is a sweet little girl helping her mom with the cows on the farm, the next minute she is spouting off stuttering radicalizations that we really don’t understand as again, not explained. The only thing I truly believed in the film was the points of history shown that actually happened with riots and protests etc.. Visually, it’s done quite well with bringing you a true feel of the 60’s at certain points, until again, the ending portion where logic and sense seemingly go out the window. None of the acting is standout or stellar. The only thing I thought of at the end, as I do love some of Philip Roth’s books tremendously, is maybe now I will read this one and maybe it will become a clearer story as the screenplay is not.
As 2016 is coming to a close and I am still waiting for those Oscar-worthy films to come forth, this was a disappointing exercise of film to say the least.
Review Screening: Tuesday, October 11, 2016 ~ Courtesy of LAFTV Meetup
Nationwide Release: Friday, October 21, 2016