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With: Ewan McGregor, Jennifer Connelly, Dakota Fanning, Peter Riegert, Rupert Evans, Molly Parker, David Strathairn, Uzo Aduba, Valorie Curry, Corrie Danieley, David Whalen, Julia Silverman
Written by: John Romano, based on the novel by Philip Roth
Directed by: Ewan McGregor
MPAA Rating: R for some strong sexual material, language and brief violent images
Running Time: 126
Date: 10/21/2016

American Pastoral (2016)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Swede Way

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Ewan McGregor makes his directorial debut with an arguably unwise choice, an adaptation of an acclaimed novel by Philip Roth. His American Pastoral doesn't fare quite as well as this year's Indignation or 2008's Elegy — which were based on slimmer literary offerings — but it does share certain strengths with 2003's The Human Stain. Basically, it's difficult to translate Roth's themes to the screen, but his stories at least offer actors a chance at rich characters, and the new film features several strong performances.

It begins as Nathan Zuckerman (an excellent David Strathairn, who narrates his segments in Roth's prose) attends a high school reunion and runs into Jerry Levov (Rupert Evans), whose brother, "Swede," was the school's hero. He was an all-around star athlete who married a beauty queen and took over his father's successful glove factory. But Jerry has a terrible story about what happened to Swede after that, and how his life took a turn. From there we flash back to the story, with McGregor, very good as Swede, Jennifer Connelly as a tormented Dawn, and Dakota Fanning as their daughter, Merry, rebellious and tempestuous.

McGregor handles the large transitions in time gracefully, without noting dates on the screen. He uses makeup and digital effects to make characters appear older or younger, and these are fairly seamless. But, while certain shots are nicely staged, and they prove that McGregor could easily take on some less ambitious material, they fail to do much to support or enhance Roth's work. (The screenplay is by John Romano, who has previously adapted Michael Connelly and Nicholas Sparks to the screen; perhaps he bit off more than he could chew with this.) Even so, American Pastoral contains some potent character moments, and it's worth seeing.

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