TIFF: American Pastoral

pastoralbar640Ewan McGregor makes his directorial debut with American Pastoral, an adaption of Philip Roth’s novel. As always, I haven’t read the book and Jay has. She reports the movie to be quite faithful to the book, even pared down to have a two hour run-time.

I feel like the book must have a black cover, because American Pastoral is dark from start to finish. It is methodical in chronicling a family’s unravelling and is as far from idyllic as you can get.

With its dialogue-heavy scenes divided by contextual stock footage clips, American Pastoral felt more like a play than 21st century cinema. It is richly shot but largely static. The style mostly fit but at times the transitions were jarring. When they worked the transitions felt like covers of Life magazine, reenacted. Except as far as I know, Life magazine never featured a pipe bomb explosion at a small-town post office. Perhaps my dad’s magazine collection is incomplete.

In the Q&A session following the screening, McGregor described his approach to directing as an attempt to give life to the movie he saw in his head when he read the script. He imagined some nice shots and paid the price to get them (literally in the case of some costly train platform scenes). His foray into directing is a workmanlike effort but not a distinguishing one.

As an exploration of the destructive power of children, American Pastoral succeeds. As entertainment? Not so much, not for me.

By the closing credits I felt sad and drained, which I have no doubt is exactly how McGregor and Roth would have wanted me to leave the theatre. But because nothing stuck with me other than that empty feeling, American Pastoral is not a movie I can recommend. ย If you enjoyed the book it’s likely worth a shot though, and in that case I hope you can connect with it in all the ways that I didn’t.

 

 

 

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32 thoughts on “TIFF: American Pastoral

    1. Sean Post author

      The cast is impressive, including one of “those guys” as the narrator. Ewan McGregor might give the weakest performance. Jay correctly noted that he sometimes does his whimsical Big Fish thing and this isn’t the right movie for it.

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  1. Claire @ bletheringbylinley

    My copy of the book has a black cover! It’s also been on my TBR pile for – years? Maybe even a decade? That’s awful, though I think your review touches on why – I need to be in the right mood for bleak, and perhaps I haven’t been in some time ๐Ÿ˜‰ Think I’ll give the movie a go though, if only out of curiosity to check out McGregor’s direction!

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    1. Sean Post author

      There were some beautiful shots in this for sure. I have seen some bad reviews for this and it feels unfair. I don’t regret seeing it. I do wish it was better and there was potential for more.

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  2. Jay

    It’s a lot to take on, but worth it. As the title – American Pastoral – suggests, this is an idyllic little family: beauty queen mom, football hero dad, a good business, a nice house. But even a good family can get ripped apart. It’s really about the social veneer, how we never really know the hearts of other people, never know what goes on behind closed doors.
    We can easily concentrate on the daughter as the most extreme example, but everyone is carrying secrets.

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  3. Jay

    In a Q&A, Ewan McGregor mentioned that he didn’t have any specific involvement with the book’s author, Philip Roth. The movie does honour the tone of the novel but does deviate from it, as lovers of the book will surely note.

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  4. Jay

    American Pastoral’s director Ewan McGregor discusses author Philip Roth’s limited involvement in the film, and his impression upon viewing the completed project.

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  5. jwforeva

    Sounds dark and depressing as you put it. I’m actually quite hyped for it, I love these serious explorative types ๐Ÿ˜€ But I’ll keep your review in mind!! And if it gets too dark for my liking, I know where I heard it first ๐Ÿ™‚ Nice review Sean!

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  6. Jay


    Uzo Aduba: What I loved about the book and the film is that we have a sort of picturesque idea of how we paint certain chapters of the American story, and when you see that layer pulled back you get to see the truth of what was happening inside the country, inside the homes and inside the civil unrest happening within our youth


    Rupert Evans: We have to age in the movie. My character starts at 27 and I had to play 60. Ewan [McGregor] had to play 65 as well. I sent it to my dad, because itโ€™s kind of weird, you know? Itโ€™s really freaky seeing yourself that old. I wonder if I will look like that. It took seven hours of makeup

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