American Pastoral, review: ‘McGregor’s directorial debut respectable but lifeless

Dakota Fanning in American Pastoral. Picture: Richard Foreman

Dakota Fanning in American Pastoral. Picture: Richard Foreman - Credit: Archant

The film suggests it might have been a good read, but when the events are simply laid out in front of you like this, there’s little chance of replicating what was compelling about these characters and situations in Roth’s novel.

Ewan McGregor’s first bash at being behind the camera is a perfectly respectable but largely lifeless skim read of one of Philip Roth’s most celebrated novels.

Swede (McGregor) is a high school legend, one of the greatest college athletes who marries a beauty queen (Jennifer Connelly), takes over his father’s (Peter Riegert) business and seems to be the embodiment of American post war contentment.

All is well till the late sixties when his daughter (Dakota Fanning), disgusted by the war in Vietnam, rebels against her comfortable life and joins the radical underground and their terrorist activities.

So now I know what happens in American Pastoral. (Or at least some of what happens – the Wikipedia synopsis suggest some important omissions.)


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The film suggests it might have been a good read, but when the events are simply laid out in front of you like this, there’s little chance of replicating what was compelling about these characters and situations in the novel.

It seems like the film is being slowly whittled away in post production: the running time when I saw it was at least 20 minutes shorter than the 126 minutes I was expecting.

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I understand the desire to shorten but every snip is reducing the impact and making Roth’s themes seem simplistic. The daughter, Merry, has a stutter and the way the film is now plotted makes that stutter seem like a symptom of extreme mental imbalance.

McGregor’s direction though is competent enough. He stepped in when the original director, Philip Noyce, left the project and I don’t think he’s let anyone down.

He gets good performances from the rest of the cast and himself, and the production looks nice.

Rating: 2/5 stars

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