american-pastoral-posterAmerican Pastoral starts off strong, then takes a turn down a very long, dark and twisted road that I was more than ready to exit by the end of the film’s 108 minute running time. It felt much longer. The film is based on a 1997 Philip Roth novel that tells the story – over several decades – of Seymour “Swede” Levov (Ewan McGregor), a man who seems to have it all: He excels in sports at his New Jersey high school, becomes a successful businessman, marries a beauty queen, Dawn (Jennifer Connelly), and builds a seemingly idyllic life for himself and his family in a small town outside Newark. But his daughter Merry (Dakota Fanning) is a nut job. She gets mixed up with a bunch of radicals in the turbulent 1960s and disappears after being accused of a murderous act. Dawn has a breakdown, then a facelift, and seems content to never see Merry again. But Swede refuses to give up on his beloved daughter and embarks on a years-long quest to find her. The journey takes a heavy toll on Swede – and the audience.

The film opens with the distinctly recognizable voiceover of David Straithan (Good Night and Good Luck). He plays Nathan Zuckerman, a famous author who is stunned to learn during his High School reunion that the life of his childhood hero “Swede” did not play out as he had always imagined. The Zuckerman character is used as a device to set up and drive the narrative. It works okay in the beginning, but the role becomes so marginalized that any Straithan fan is likely to be left craving more.

I was really rooting for this movie to be good. It marks the directorial debut of its star, Ewan McGregor, who is extremely talented and fun to watch (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Beginners, Moulin Rouge). True to form, McGregor and his entire cast deliver excellent performances… it’s just not enough to make it all work.

The book (which I have not read) won a Pulitzer Prize. Unfortunately, I don’t think the film is destined for greatness. It’s simply too dark and twisted, and weird. But hey, if you like that sort of thing…

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