It’s not uncommon in cinema for actors to delve into directing, and the latest name to move behind the camera is Ewan McGregor. Adapting Philip Roth’s Pulitzer prize-winning novel of the same name, American Pastoral focuses on a political divide in late 1960s New Jersey that tears a family apart. McGregor also takes the film’s leading role, playing Seymour “Swede” Levov, a respected and successful glover that lives with his former beauty queen wife Dawn (Jennifer Connelly) and their troubled daughter Merry (Dakota Fanning). With the Vietnam War raging on, Merry’s radical views cause tensions to run high in their upper middle class household. A damaging explosion in their local town sends shockwaves through the community, and Merry mysteriously disappears.
It has often been said that Roth’s literary works are ‘unfilmable’ and this poses certain challenges for writer John Romano, his screenplay somewhat simplifying the material in its transfer to the big screen. The expansive meandering themes of the book are definitely touched upon, but instead the narrative zones in on the dysfunctional and fractured family dynamic, which represents a microcosm of the generational divide taking place in America at that time. In doing this, McGregor is very effective in being what can be described as an ‘actor’s director’, relishing in drawing hugely powerful performances across the board as well as delivering himself with a complex turn as the “Swede”. His female co-stars are equally sublime, Connelly perfectly cast as the materialistic Dawn Dwyer, and Fanning stealing the show as Merry, excelling in an extremely complicated and volatile yet incredibly compelling role.
Ewan McGregor’s directorial debut embarks into very difficult subject matter, resulting in an interesting, affecting and wholly worthwhile adaptation of the award-winning cult novel. The stripped back retelling of the story is lifted both by acclaimed composer Alexandre Desplat’s commanding score and the performances which really drive the plot forward and give the film its intrigue. McGregor got involved with directing this particular piece through circumstance of previous filmmakers dropping out of the project, so it’ll definitely be exciting to see what he turns his hand to next. Until then though, American Pastoral is a promising start to his freshly paved path, and showcases an excellent hard-hitting performance from Dakota Fanning which could arguably be her career-best to date.
Read my interview with Ewan McGregor at the Scottish Premiere…
See the trailer: