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AMERICAN PASTORAL (director: Ewan McGregor; screenwriters: based on a novel by Philip Roth/John Romano; cinematographer: Martin Ruhe; editor: Melissa Kent; music: Alexander Desplat; cast: Ewan McGregor (Seymour “Swede” Levov), Jennifer Connelly (Dawn Dwyer-Levov), Dakota Fanning (Merry Levov), Peter Riegert(Lou Levov), Rupert Evans (Jerry Levov), Samantha Mathis (Penny Hamlin), David Straithairn (Nathan Zuckerman), Valorie Curry (Rita Cohen), Emily Peachey (Nurse), Mark Hildreth (Agent Dolan), David Whalen (Bill Orcutt), Molly Parker (Sheila Smith), Uzo Aduba (Vicky), Hannah Nordberg (Merry at 12), Ocean James (Merry at 8), Julia Silverman (Sylvia Levov); Runtime: 108; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Tom Rosenberg, Gary Lucchesi, Andre Lamal; Lakeshore Entertainment; 2016)
Fails to suss out Roth’s biting Jewish angst and humor. Reviewed by Dennis SchwartzA moderate film based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning agitated 1997 novel by Philip Roth. Scottish actor-turned-director Ewan McGregor (“The Serpent’s Kiss”) deals in material he’s not best suited for, as he fails to suss out Roth’s biting Jewish angst and humor about living the American Dream only for it to turn into a nightmare. As an actor McGregor is also miscast in the title role, as he doesn’t have the DNA or props to play Roth’s Jewish tragic figure. While writer John Romano misses on every turn of the novel, keeping the film politically inert with his mediocre script. It tells the story of the Nordic looking Seymour ‘Swede’ Levov (Ewan McGregor), a Jewish star athlete from Newark, N.J., who marries Dawn Dwyer (Jennifer Connelly), an Irish-Catholic beauty queen, and settles into a seemingly idyllic domestic life in the country raising cows in an upscale Waspish western New Jersey township. The liberal Swede, in post-war America, is a Marine vet, who inherits his father’s successful glove factory and builds it up further, with a work force that is 80% black. The devoted dad to his stuttering but otherwise beautiful teen daughter, Merry (Dakota Fanning), is heartbroken when during the anti-Vietnam War protests in the Sixties his radicalized 16-year-old joins the Weather Underground and vanishes for a few years to live underground because she was part of a radical cell that is wanted by the feds for blowing up a local post office/gas station, killing the service station owner.The false post-war optimism over Jewish assimilation and the country’s rosy outlook over its growing materialistic society is contrasted by Roth with the social unrest in the 1960s and 1970s over the Civil Rights and war protests, race riots and the emerging divisiveness over its extremist groups. The narrative is told to us through the novelist Nathan Zuckerman’s (David Strathairn), the author’s alter-ego, who opens the film with a visit to his 45th high-school reunion where he listens to the Swede’s story as told to him in flashbacks by Jerry Levov (Rupert Evans), the younger brother and narrator.It’s an historical film that embarrassed itself by its inadequacy to convey the struggles between the youthful counterculture crowd as opposed by the establishment over thirty crowd, as seen by the author through Jewish eyes. It makes a great book look bad, real bad.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”