American Pastoral ⭐️⭐️1/2

Based on Philip Roth’s Pulitzer prize-winning novel, this is an ambitious awards-season drama about the disintegration of an all-American family as a result of political activism in the late 60s. Judging the film on its own merits as I have not read the book, this is a glum and subdued film that refuses to provide easy answers or resolutions and as a result, I suspect it somewhat buckles under the weight and seriousness of its subject-matter in its transfer from paper to screen. In the film’s condensation of the main narrative which took years to unfold, some plotting are frustrating and misguided while other less important strands are underwritten. The bookend scenes with David Strathairn’s Roth surrogate, the narrative relevance of which puzzles me during the film for example, feel unnecessary and mishandled after a quick bit of Wikipedia research illuminated what the original written version was. As difficult as these conditions make it, it actually isn’t Ewan McGregor’s directorial abilities that’s the main problem. In fact, as his debut effort, he shows competency, passion and a good eye for visuals that impact and work in the context here. What doesn’t work for me is his portrayal as the grieving father struggling with his internal conflicts, except for one last scene towards the end when he finally connects emotionally. As a piece of drama, it borders more on the side of melodrama and as a reflection of an innocent age that we’ve since lost, it lacks the appropriate pathos for it to resonate with its audience.

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