American Pastoral

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel published in 1997 by acclaimed author Philip Roth, American Pastoral tells a fascinating story that, unfortunately, does not live up to its evocative subject matter by being mired in too many complexities. The film is the directorial debut of Ewan McGregor who also plays the main protagonist Seymour “Swede” Levov, a former high school star athlete turned successful businessman whose life is turned upside down after the radicalization of his daughter. Set in 1960s New Jersey, he lives a relatively normal life in small-town America with his beautiful former beauty pageant wife, portrayed by Jennifer Connelly, and runs his father’s glove-making business in Newark. Nothing seems wrong with his daughter except for a persistent stutter, but things radically change as she becomes a teenager. She quickly develops an extremely liberal political consciousness and rails against the Vietnam War and racial injustice. Depicted by former child actress Dakota Fanning, the daughter Merry is much more than a typically rebellious teenager after she mysteriously disappears and is implicated in the bombing of a local post office. Interspersed with archival footage of race riots and violence perpetrated by radical groups such as the Weather Underground, the movie rather haphazardly attempts to touch upon every civil rights issue of such a turbulent time as the 1960s. It also wants to show the profoundly devastating effects that having a possibly criminal child has on a family. The whole situation is particularly upsetting for Seymour, a good-natured and responsible father who believed he raised his child the right way. McGregor does give a fairly good performance as a grief-stricken father searching for answers and the whereabouts of his beloved yet troubled daughter. Overall, the film misses the mark by squeezing way too many details and storylines to make it a cohesive and even coherent cinematic exploration of important matters on life and societal ills. It had the potential of being a movie powerfully evoking the zeitgeist of the 1960s but largely fell short possibly due to the rookie directorial mistakes of the otherwise talented actor Ewan McGregor.

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