Monday, June 12, 2017

Now on Amazon Prime: American Pastoral (2016)

American Pastoral (2016) - Directed by Ewan McGregor; Written by John Romano; Starring Ewan McGregor, Jennifer Connelly, Dakota Fanning, Uzo Aduba, David Strathairn.

By Kenny Howell

Why in the world Ewan McGregor thought it was a good idea to start his directing career with the dense Philip Roth novel American Pastoral I will never know.

It is one of the best books of 20th century, so wonderfully written that anything less than that, which is what a movie is, can't really match up to it.

Knowing that, I tried to take a different approach when watching the film. I tried, hard as it might be, to separate it from the Roth novel, because they are obviously two very different things. The surface story is the same, and of course some of the themes, but the change in medium makes it something completely different. As a film, apart from the book, Ewan McGregor's work is not bad. But it definitely isn't Roth.

American Pastoral is the story of a high school superstar named Swede, also played by McGregor (Miles Ahead), grown up and going through a horribly tragic downfall. We learn at the beginning of the film through Roth's alter ego Nathan Zuckerman, played briefly by David Strathairn (Good Night, and Good Luck), that Swede has passed away. His brother runs into Zuckerman at a high school reunion and relays the bad news as Zuckerman admires all Swede's athletic accolades from the school.

As expected, after high school Swede marries a beauty queen played by Jennifer Connelly (Stuck in Love), and they have one child who suffers from a bad stutter. She is Swede's the downfall as she grows up in the Vietnam era and becomes radicalized, leaving her family and leaving Swede not knowing where his daughter is, or if she is even alive. The rest of his life is spent trying to find her, and dealing with his broken heart of the things she has done, which may include the bombings of several government buildings.

What we basically get here is the Cliffs Notes version of the Roth book, which isn't surprising since it has to boiled down to under two hours. You can't get Roth's rich language and meaning in that time, so it is impossible to live up to something like the book. It's why many of Roth's books have failed as adaptations, the only exception I know of is last year's Indignation, but that was a much trimmer book than this.

Despite all that is stripped away, the surface itself is still interesting, and though McGregor may rush through things, he does tell the story quite well. It's a good first effort for a director, it just would have been much better if he wouldn't have taken on such heavy material.

American Pastoral is now streaming on Amazon Prime.

Rating: **1/2

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