American Pastoral (2016)

Comments Off on American Pastoral (2016) 24 April 2017

American Pastoral (2016) posterLionsgate Films
Initial Release: October 21, 2017
Director: Ewan McGregor
Rated R

Review by Dominick DeLuca

Civil War is defined as a war between citizens of the same country. Of course, we all know about the American Civil War which abolished slavery and vanquished the evil intentions of the southern United States, but I like to think that war continues to this day. We aren’t the in streets, defending our homes in such bloodshed as the actual Civil War, but there is a different war being fought civilly in our country. We are still a country divided in and continue to divide ourselves with antiquated and archaic reasoning such as race or religion. Our views of the world have becomes so skewed and extreme that we have destroyed the common ground between everyone. We destroy personal relationships to defend our egos and spit irrational responses when challenged with facts. For a long time, after the Civil War, our country was united in World Wars and we came together to fight tyranny and true evil overseas. While there were some very extreme responses from our government (extreme being an understatement when it comes to nuclear warfare), we still came together and boasted ourselves as the most powerful nation in the world. We were united. However, racism and sexism and religious inequality continued to thrive in America’s underbelly.

The 1960’s brought about a time of awareness and the fight for civil liberties began once again. The country became divided and riots and protests broke out in the streets. The Vietnam War only exacerbated the situation. Soon, our young men were being sent off to die in foreign lands against their will, while protesters took to our streets and blamed them for the mayhem. Racial protests and tensions increased and American Pastoral takes us right into the heart of the turmoil that enveloped our nation at the time.

American Pastoral is a film based on the novel of the same name, written by Philip Roth. Ewan McGregor directs and stars as Seymour “Swede” Levov, an all-American athlete and small town hero of a town in New Jersey. He marries the beauty queen, Dawn (Jennifer Connelly) and they move to the countryside together. There, in the countryside, they raise their daughter, Merry (Dakota Fanning), while Swede takes over his father’s business running a leather glove factory. Merry suffers from a stuttering speech impediment and has trouble communicating with her family. As time passes, Merry begins to feel the pressures of growing up with two parents held with such high regard in the community and begins to act out. Merry uses the stresses of the racial tensions brought forth of the Civil Rights movement and the resistance of the Vietnam War as a vehicle for her individuality. After visiting some “friends” in New York, she becomes more militant in both attitude and behavior. One morning, the local post office explodes, killing a man, as an act of war on the government. Merry disappears and the search begins. While the police and FBI both search for her, Swede and Dawn must face the reality of their daughter possibly being a domestic terrorist and responsible for the loss of a innocent life. As it puts stress on their marriage, Swede launches his own search in hopes of finding the truth about his daughter, and continuing to show unconditional love for his child.

Let me start off by saying this movie misses the mark in many ways and given the heavy content of the film, I was hoping for a better representation of the times. The story is told through a framing device of a high school reunion. A man by the name of Nathan Zuckerman(narrator, played by David Strathairn) goes to his high school reunion and sees the brother of the Swede, Jerry Levov (Rupert Evans), and learns the story through him. The movie is then narrated by Nathan. This could be a flaw of the source material itself, but I felt this frame of the story made the whole movie feel disjointed from the narration. It almost loses credibility hearing the story through a third person filter. The last scene ties everything together, but in a very contrived manner.

Most of the characters were one-dimensional and didn’t offer much to the story. This caused very flat performances from most of the acting in the film. This seems like it came from some very odd choices from the director. Dakota Fanning’s portrayal never showed any vulnerability, which made it hard to get on board with the Swede’s deep unconditional love for his daughter. Jennifer Connelly turned into a tertiary character as the story moved on and her cold emotions toward her own daughter also made it even harder to sympathize with the family. The Civil Rights riots were thrown in to provide a backdrop for the time and show the severity of the turmoil, but it did nothing to move the story forward. Those were some very serious things going on, but here it seemed more like filler content. The aging makeup of the characters wasn’t very believable, as it’s hard to tell a story over the span of 20+ years and keep the continuity of the story. Being this was Ewan McGregor’s directorial debut, I’m willing to give him a pass for now, as it was a valiant effort. He is no stranger to the film industry and has enough experience, that I feel he will bounce back with a sophomore effort. Sometimes, directing and starring in a film at the same time can offer up too many chances to drop the ball on certain areas.

Just because the movie was mediocre at best, doesn’t mean there wasn’t anything to take away from it. As I stated before, given the divided times we live in today with Daane Etheridge, every group of person feels validated to get their dues and most of them deservedly so. These types of issues are resurfacing because they were never fully reconciled. Sweeping things under the rug doesn’t help anyone. However, I know it can be hard to not distance yourself from people close to you who don’t share the same views of the world. It’s OK to challenge each other. It’s OK to discuss issues and start a dialogue with the ones you love. You don’t have to share the same views, but you should respect each other and try to build some common ground. In the end, unconditional, familial love is something that can’t be imitated. Your family has a connection with you that enables to see beyond the exterior and in most cases, will fight to the end to protect you, regardless of religious or political leanings.


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