American Pastoral (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
January 22, 2017 by Dennis Amith
The directorial debut of actor Ewan McGregor was no doubt a wonderful first film. With “American Pastoral”, taking on such a challenging job as a director and the film’s main protagonist, McGregor takes Philip Roth’s Pulitzer Prize novel and is able to make it his own, with a few changes compared to the original source. I couldn’t help but being captivated by the film and seeing how certain actions mirrors today’s society and I found the film to be fascinating, though-provoking and heartbreaking. “American Pastoral” is a film worth checking out!
TITLE: American Pastoral
FILM RELEASE: 2016
DURATION: 108 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (2:40:1), English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital Audio
RATED: R (Some Strong Sexual Material, Language and Deep Violent Images)
RELEASE DATE: February 7, 2017
Based on the Novel by Philip roth
Directed by Ewan McGregor
Screenplay by John Romano
Produced by Andre Lamal, Gary Lucchesi, Tom Rosenberg
Co-Producer: Zane Weiner
Executive Producer: Terry McKay, Eric Reid
Music by Alexandre Desplat
Cinematography by Martin Ruhe
Edited by Melissa Kent
Casting by Deborah Aquila, Tricia Wood
Production Design by Daniel B. Clancy
Art Direction by Gregory A. Weimerskirch
Set Decoration by Julie Smith
Costume Design by Lindsay McKay
Ewan McGregor as Swede Levov
Jennifer Connelly as Dawn Levov
Dakota Fanning as Merry Levov
Peter Riegert as Lou Levov
Rupert Evans as Jerry Levov
Uzo Aduba as Vicky
Molly Parker as Sheila Smith
Valorie Curry as Rita Cohen
Hannah Nordberg as Merry Levov (12-years-old)
Julia Silverman as Sylvia Levov
Mark Hildreth as Agent Dolan
Samantha Mathis as Penny Hamlin
David Strathairn as Nathan Zuckerman
Ewan McGregor directs and stars alongside Jennifer Connelly and Dakota Fanning in this acclaimed film adapted from Philip Roth’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Seymour “Swede” Levov (Ewan McGregor), a once-legendary high school athlete, is a successful businessman married to a former beauty queen, Dawn (Jennifer Connelly). When Swede and Dawn’s daughter (Dakota Fanning) disappears after being accused of a violent crime, Swede’s perfect life is broken forever and he is left to make sense out of the chaos.
Back in 1997, Philip Roth’s novel “American Pastoral” would take the world by storm.
Roth’s novel would win the Pulitzer Prize in 1998 and was included in Time Magazine’s “All-TIME 100 Greatest Novels” and the crime-drama film would receive a loose film adaptation.
Actor Ewan McGregor (“Trainspotting”, “Star Wars: Episodes 1-3” films) would make his directorial debut with “American Pastoral” and would feature a screenplay by John Romano (“The Lincoln Lawyer”, “Intolerable Cruelty”, “Nights in Rodanthe”).
The film stars Jennifer Connelly (“Requiem for a Dream”, “A Beautiful Mind”, “Blood Diamond”), Dakota Fanning (“War of the Worlds”, “Man on Fire”, “I am Sam”), Peter Riegert (“The Mask”, “Oscar”, “Animal House”), Rupert Evans (“Hellboy”, “Agora”, “The Canal”), Uzo Aduba (“Orange is the New Black”, “Tallulah”), Molly Parker (“The Road”, “Dead Wood”, “The Wicker Man”), Valorie Curry (“The Following”, “Blair Witch”, “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn”).
The film’s premiere was held at the 2016 Toronto International Film FEstival wand will be released on Blu-ray in February 2017.
The film begins with author Nathan Zuckerman (portrayed by David Strathairn) going to his 40-year reunion for Weequahic High School in Newark, Jersey.
Nathan is looking forward to seeing his old friend Seymour “Swede” Levov (portrayed by Ewan McGregor), the high school hero, star athlete who married beauty queen Dawn Dwyer Levov (portrayed by Jennifer Connelly) and is now in charge of the family glove-making business. And the last he heard before the ’60s was that Swede and Dawn had a daughter named Merry.
When he sees Swede’s younger brother, Jerry (portrayed by Rupert Evans) at the high school reunion and starts reminiscing about Swede, he is unaware of what happened to Swede throughout the decades. In fact, the reason why Jerry is in town is for Swede’s funeral.
Jerry then tells Nathan the story of what happened to Swede.
We learn that Swede, who is Jewish, married Dawn a devout Roman Catholic and how his father, Lou (portrayed by Peter Riegert) was against the marriage but gave in.
The couple would have a daughter named Meredith “Merry” and would settle in the town of Old Rimrock at a big farm, in which Dawn takes care of the cows, while Swede would take over his father’s business.
Merry has a stuttering problem and when Swede and Dawn talk to Dr. Sheila Smith about why she has a stuttering problem, they start to learn that its possible competition between mother and daughter for Swede’s attention.
One day, while watching television, a young “Merry” sees the Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist Monk Thich Quang Duc taking part in self-immolation and can’t understand why the man would burn himself to death.
Fastforward to when Merry is now a teenager and as the Vietnam War continues to rage on during the turbulent 1960’s, she is becoming more radicalized and often leaves to New York to take part in anti-war protests.
Swede who is concerned for his daughter tells her that he will not allow her to go to New York and that she could practice her anti-war protests at home.
A few days later, the local posts office and gas station are blown up by a bomb and the gas station’s owner is killed. With Merry gone, she has now become the prime suspect in the bombing.
And as years have passed by without hearing from their daughter, the couple who were seen as “perfect” are destroyed by not knowing what happened to Merry but radicalized her to the point of killing someone. The parents question themselves and don’t understand what they did wrong as parents. And the guilt and the feeling of loss is taking its toll on both Swede and Dawn.
But one day, a woman named Rita Cohen (portrayed by Valorie Curry), a student at the Wharton School comes to Swede’s glovemaking business and immediately tells him behind closed doors that she knows about Merry’s whereabouts.
This leads Swede on a mission to find his daughter.
“American Pastoral” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:40:1 aspect ratio). Close-ups show great detail and for the most part, costume design and make-up design (showing each cast member aging throughout the years/decades) is well-done. I didn’t notice any banding or artifacts while watching the film.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“American Pastoral” is presented in English and Spanish 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. The film is primarily a dialogue-driven soundtrack but there are moments where the surround channels are utilized, such as the bomb explosion and when Swede goes after Rita or gun shots outside of Swede’s business. But for the most part, this is
Subtitles are in English SDH and Spanish.
“American Pastoral” comes with the following special features:
- Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by Ewan McGregor.
- American Pastoral: Adapting an American Classic – (28:01) A featurette about the difficulties of doing an adaptation of “American Pastoral” and how Ewan McGregor came to be the film’s director. And also interviews with the cast and behind-the-scenes of making the film.
- Making the American Dream – (17:35) A featurette with interviews with the cast and crew about being part of this film and bringing “American Pastoral” to the big screen.
“American Pastoral” comes with a slipcover, DVD and an UltraViolet Digital HD code.
I have watched “American Pastoral” twice and despite knowing how there are a number of differences between the Pulitzer Prize winning book and the film adaptation, I can’t help but say that this film started to grow on me.
As many of us grew up watching ’50s television shows about the perfect nuclear family and whenever there is trouble, people learn from their mistakes and it’s always a happy ending.
I found “American Pastoral” to be a film that really captivated me because of perception that the most popular athlete dating a beauty queen and having inherited his father’s glovemaking business and is financially wealthy makes the Levov family “perfect”.
It’s anything but as this couple who grew up during a time when America seemed wonderful and there were advances in technology and despite the politics and tension with Russia, for the most part, the world seemed much friendlier until the turmoil of the 1960’s rolled in.
The death of JFK, the Vietnam War and a time where people disapproved their government and wanted to make their voices heard.
And seeing how things are going on in today’s society, in someways, the film is relevant because radicalism and anger towards the government is on the forefront and it shows how families who felt they raised their children right, have no control of the life their children may leave when they become obsessed with a certain ideology.
The film deals with this perfect couple who must deal with the consequences after their beloved daughter, who they see her growing up to be more opinionated and then radicalized, blowing up the local post office and gas station, killing a man, a husband, a father. And now their daughter is missing and both Swede and his wife Dawn, not only feel guilt, there are questions of why their daughter is gone, would she be capable of killing anyone, blowing up property and in essence, becoming a domestic terrorist.
I think in certain moments of the film, there were scenes that stood in my head as the wife of the man who was killed tells the Lenov’s that despite she losing her husband and her children losing their father, she feels bad for them because they still maintain their family. The family will continue as it had before. But tells the Lenov’s that their family will never be the same.
And we see how the couple grow up through the years, not knowing what happened to their girl. Swede can’t forget his daughter and his marriage seems incomplete without his family, without his daughter Merry who he has been searching for, awaiting any clue that may lead him to her.
And as years pass, a mysterious woman shows up out of nowhere, offering Swede a chance to find his daughter and that she knows where she is.
I found the film to be smartly written and the film’s message to be powerful. And I say this as a person who has never read the book. I think like many adaptations of a famous book, if it deviates too far from the original source, it’s enough to make those who were entertained by the book to easily criticize the film.
In this case, I’m not in the position to discuss the differences between book and film but I do know that I found the film to be real, devastating, tragic and heartbreaking but yet watching how time has transpired for the couple, sympathize with their grief of not knowing what happened to their daughter and if she is capable of being a murderer.
The Blu-ray release features very good picture quality with a lossless soundtrack that is appropriate for the film’s dialogue and music-driven soundtrack. And you also get a few special features included as well.
Overall, the directorial debut of actor Ewan McGregor was no doubt a wonderful first film. With “American Pastoral”, taking on such a challenging job as a director and the film’s main protagonist, McGregor takes Philip Roth’s Pulitzer Prize novel and is able to make it his own, with a few changes compared to the original source. I couldn’t help but being captivated by the film and seeing how certain actions mirrors today’s society and I found the film to be fascinating, though-provoking and heartbreaking.
“American Pastoral” is a film worth checking out!
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