Ewan 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. 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.