It's impossible to overstate my admiration for Ewan McGregor. The brilliant actor has impressed the masses in big productions like Moulin Rouge!, but his most treasured work comes from the numerous indie films where he absolutely commands the screen. Lesser known gems such as The impossible, Beginners, Perfect Sense and I Love You Phillip Morris serve as shining examples of his unique ability. Needless to say, when I was given the opportunity to catch McGregor's anticipated directorial debut, American Pastoral, I jumped at the chance. Unfortunately, it pains me to admit that the film is an obvious mess.
Based on Philip Roth's 1997 novel of the same name, McGregor stars as Swede, a middle class factory owner in New Jersey who lives with his former beauty queen wife (Jennifer Connelly) and their daughter Dawn (Dakota Fanning). Yet, as Dawn becomes involved with radical groups during the Civil Rights movement in the late 60s, Swede watches his seemingly perfect life fall victim to her rebellion.
There are countless odd aspects to the story and complexities surrounding American Pastoral. It opens with a peculiar Electra Complex that paints a portrait of Dawn's infatuation with Swede and a complete disregard for her mother. This element and other occurrences push her into a radical belief system that turns depressingly violent and shatters this once ideal family situation. A weak screenplay merely offers paper-thin characters and melodrama galore. As a result, decent performances and mediocre direction aren't enough to save the film from falling terribly flat. There's little connection bridged between viewer and character, leaving American Pastoral as a sad directorial debut for a true acting talent.