American Pastoral: What You Need To Know
Philip Roth's 1997 novel American Pastoral has regularly appeared in countless lists and surveys featuring the top 100 works of literary fiction in the 20th century, but while several other Roth books have been subject to cinematic adaptations over the years, including Goodbye, Columbus and The Humbling, last year saw American Pastoral adapted for the big screen for the first time.
The film arrives in stores on Monday and you can pre-order the DVD or Blu-ray on the right-hand side of this page, in the meantime here's everything you need to know...
Who's in it?
Ewan McGregor and Jennifer Connelly lead a cast that also includes Dakota Fanning, Rupert Evans, Molly Parker and Peter Riegert.
And who's directing?
As well as starring in the film, American Pastoral is a directorial debut for Ewan McGregor. He works from a script adapted by John Romano, whose work as a writer has taken in three decades of TV shows including Hill Street Blues and Party of Five.
What's the plot?
Seymour “Swede” Levov (McGregor) is the walking embodiment of the American dream; he was the star athlete at high school, married a beauty queen named Dawn (Connelly) and has been handed the keys to his father's glove factory, continuing the family business and buying an idyllic farmhouse in the New Jersey countryside, where he lives with his young family, including his daughter Merry (played in her younger years by Ocean James and Hannah Nordberg, then by Fanning).
But despite his seemingly perfect life, as his daughter grows older in a world becoming weary of the American dream and wrestling with the new realities of a post-Kennedy assassination America and the Vietnam war, Merry begins to grow distant from her parents, eventually becoming a campaigner and activist.
When a local post office and gas station is destroyed by a bomb, killing its owner, Merry disappears and becomes the number one suspect while her parents struggle to deal with the idea of their daughter becoming a terrorist, their marriage suffering as a result.
The story is framed through the recollections of another character Nathan Zuckerman (Riegert) – who fans of Roth's books will recognise as the author's alter-ego and a regular fixture in his stories – and Swede's brother Jerry (Evans), who recounts the story of Swede's struggles at a high school reunion.
Does it deliver?
Roth's story is about nothing less than the shattering of the American ideals of the 1940s and 50s, and while it's a heavy tale at times it's adapted well for the screen here. McGregor and Connelly's gradually detached performances are a good fit for the film and though this can sometimes leave the viewer feeling a little cold, the decline in Swede's life is beautifully illustrated here through the cinematography's slowly draining colours.
McGregor has done an admirable job in his first shift in the director's chair, so while the film wasn't a huge box office hit and definitely isn't what you'd describe as popcorn-ready escapism, it's well worth a look if you enjoy Roth's stories and feel like something a little more weighty, even if the story is ultimately pretty heartbreaking. You can find a trailer for the film below...