One defiant heroine's vociferous rejection of stark social injustice

AMERICAN PASTORAL (15, 108 mins) Drama/Romance. Ewan McGregor, Jennifer Connelly, Dakota Fanning, Uzo Aduba, Rupert Evans, Peter Riegert, David Strathairn. Director: Ewan McGregor.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 11th November 2016, 10:44 am
Updated Wednesday, 16th November 2016, 5:04 pm
Ewan McGregor as Seymour 'Swede' Levov and Jennifer Connelly as Dawn Dwyer Levov in American Pastoral
PA/Entertainment Films
Ewan McGregor as Seymour 'Swede' Levov and Jennifer Connelly as Dawn Dwyer Levov in American Pastoral PA/Entertainment Films

Released: November 11 (UK & Ireland)

If one toxic emotion shepherded Donald Trump to the White House, it was anger: the simmering rage of everymen and women across America, fed up with the self-serving political establishment.

The disillusioned and disenfranchised spoke at the ballot box, and they were heard.

Indignation also percolates beneath the surface of American Pastoral, a 1960s-set suburban drama about a radicalized girl, whose vociferous rejection of social injustice tears her family apart.

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    Directed by Ewan McGregor, who unwisely casts himself in a lead role with a wavering American accent, it’s a film that should bristle with intent and deliver each emotional wallop with the precision of a prize fighter.

    Sadly, the opposite is true.

    Working from a screenplay by John Romano, McGregor daubs a portrait of middle-class malaise that is pedestrian to the point of being soporific, and devoid of pathos or dramatic tension. It’s difficult to muster sympathy or concern for the anaemic characters, even with a stellar cast including Oscar winner Jennifer Connelly illuminating these misguided protagonists.

    McGregor employs the framing device of a 40-year high school reunion, where author Nathan Zuckerman (David Strathairn) wanders familiar corridors and meets his old friend, Jerry Levov (Rupert Evans).

    They reminisce and Jerry reveals that he has just buried his star athlete older brother, Seymour (McGregor), who was known affectionately as the “Swede”.

    Apparently, Seymour’s turbulent relationship with his daughter was at the heart of his decline. “I told him, ‘Let her go or it will rot your gut and take your life too...’ And it did,” laments Jerry.

    In flashback, we see Jewish American businessman Seymour assume control of the Newark Maid Glove factory established by his father (Peter Riegert) and marry an Irish-Catholic girl called Dawn (Connelly), who once proudly held the title of Miss New Jersey.

    Seymour and Dawn raise a stuttering daughter called Merry (Dakota Fanning) on their farm in Old Rimrock, where they are largely cocooned from a rapidly changing world.

    As shocking images of Vietnam flicker on the TV screen, Merry discovers her voice and lashes out.

    “You’re not anti-war,” counters Dawn. “You’re anti-everything!”

    A shocking act of violence at Rimrock post office changes the Levovs’ cosy existence forever.

    American Pastoral is a stagnant adaptation of Philip Roth’s book, which intercuts archive news footage of Martin Luther King and the moon landing to provide a historical backdrop to the family’s turmoil.

    McGregor is miscast and shares inert screen chemistry with Connelly, while Fanning fails to grapple the complexities of her rebel in the film’s turgid final act.

    A sparky supporting turn from Uzo Aduba as the factory’s feisty forewoman peps up a pivotal sequence set during the real-life Newark race riots. When it comes to casting a vote for McGregor’s picture, regrettably, it’s a vote of no confidence.

    RATING: 4/10