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VUE REVIEWS: American Pastoral – Ewan McGregor takes on Philip Roth

The actor-turned-director handles this story about troubled characters in turbulent times with skill and subtlety.

By Rhianna Dhillon

 

Ewan McGregor’s a household name, known for his standout roles in Moulin Rouge, Big Fish and Trainspotting – and now, thanks to American Pastoral, we have Ewan McGregor, the director. McGregor takes on the Pulitzer prize-winning Philip Roth novel in his directorial debut, which follows the life of an all-American family across several decades.

 

He’s not just behind the lens, either: McGregor plays Seymour "Swede" Levov, a man who has an unflinching belief in the American Dream. It's a system that worked for his multi-millionaire father, for his beauty queen wife, and for him, the owner of a glove-making factory – but he fails to recognise that his daughter, Merry, is not interested in following suit. Her American Dream is to revolt.


“[McGregor’s] experience in front of the camera serves him well as a director: he encourages his lead actors to revel in the flaws of their characters.”
VUE REVIEWS: American Pastoral – Ewan McGregor takes on Philip Roth

Her fury and disillusionment stems from the fact that she’s born into a picture perfect family who keep themselves at arm's length from any political upheaval. This does not sit well with her, and after being linked to a bombing and possible murder, she flees, leaving her parents scrabbling around for a hint of her innocence.

 

Taking on a Philip Roth novel is not an easy task but McGregor takes the challenge in his stride. His experience in front of the camera serves him well as a director: he encourages his lead actors to revel in the flaws of their characters. Dakota Fanning takes on the troubled role of Merry, and Jennifer Connelly perfectly sets the emotional tone as the brittle but determined Dawn Levov, who struggles to cope after the flight of her daughter.

VUE REVIEWS: American Pastoral – Ewan McGregor takes on Philip Roth

The drama is interspersed with news footage taken from the race riots during the 60s and commentary of the Vietnam War, which reminds us that although this story is fictional, fragments of it are a very real piece of history. But McGregor ultimately focuses on human experiences in the tiny suburban town in New Jersey. American Pastoral is about change in the USA, certainly, yet it is even more evocative when played out through the father-daughter relationship of Swede and Merry.

 

McGregor’s directorial debut is a passion project, and that shows in the careful and subtle details of the film. He doesn't go for melodrama because he doesn't need to. He handles the mood of the film with simple yet skillful techniques such as the lighting and the colour palette. The optimism of the 50s is expressed with vibrant colours which are then replaced with greys and browns as the family begins to splinter. It’s a technique that’s hugely effective on the big screen – and it’s one of many indications that McGregor is a director worth keeping an eye on.

 

American Pastoral is out now; get times and tickets here.