The pace may have tested BUT Ewan McGregor delivered a solid debut and an outstanding performance.
In 1968, a hardworking man (McGregor), whose been a staple in his quaint community for years, watches his seemingly perfect middle class life fall apart as his daughter’s (Dakota Fanning) new radical political affiliation threatens to destroy their family.
The slow burning opener didn’t really get things going as David Strathairn’s (Good Night, and Good Luck) journalist Nathan Zuckerman (A Roth stalwart) attended a high school reunion. It was watchable if a little corny with the narrator reminiscing about the days of old. Wondering what happened to the high school hero who looked set to have it all; Swede Levov.
Cue a flashback to the idyllic suburban town of Rimrock. Described as “a Republican countryside” by Swede’s father (Peter Riegert – Local Hero).
I wasn’t familiar with Philip Roth’s works BUT within two months, I’ve now seen two feature adaptations (Indignation being the other). After 15 minutes, I could already check off his traits. The thought provoking social commentary (Check), the public outcries of war (Check), the overbearing Jewish father (Played to perfection by Riegert).
McGregor was brilliant. His accent may have been a little patchy BUT he was still a charismatic presence.
We went through the highs and lows of Swede and Merry’s relationship as Merry battled her speech impediment and underwent therapy to deal with her social awkwardness.
It was interesting how McGregor captured several scenes as Merry misconstrued the closeness with her father and suffered nightmares from distressing war images from Vietnam. Was that the moment where things went wrong? Her silly teen rebel phase taking a darker turn as a pipe bomb destroyed the local petrol station.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen Dakota Fanning in a film. I feared the child star would disappear into obscurity. Thankfully, we had a (almost) resurgent return from the young actress as the radicalized trouble maker.
Politically active and wanting to fight the system. Taking the train and joining protests behind her parents’ backs. If anything, Fanning’s confused Merry reflected and voiced a good portion of the frustrated youth now.
Her political spats turning from healthy debates to aggressive stand-offs with Swede desperate to keep the peace. You could feel for him as he tried to reason with his daughter. Wondering why she despised him for having a business and providing a roof over her head. Fearing that these warped revolutionist views will get her hurt or worse.
Once Merry went on the run with Swede and the police looking for her, I was hooked. It was almost a tense thriller as Swede searched for the truth. Only receiving intel from a “friend”.
Valorie Curry (The Following) was brilliant as Merry’s accomplice Rita. The mind games and blackmail sending him into a frenzy. The paranoia settling in. Does she even know Merry? Is this a game? Things coming to a head in a tense and uncomfortable hotel rendezvous.
As much as I was engrossed with the pursuit, I felt everything else suffered. Anyone could have played Rupert Evans’ (The Man in the High Castle) character. Riegert wasn’t in it enough. His inability to avoid mouthing off a middle class jibe was a missed presence when the pace lagged.
McGregor certainly delivered a fractured depiction of the American dream. Something that couldn’t be more relevant for some people now. The awkward meeting with the widow of the petrol pump attendant was unsettling as Swede took the blame for Merry. Begging for forgiveness.
Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind) was left on the sidelines far too much. As much as you could empathise with Dawn’s mental breakdown with the stress finally taking its toll, you felt the story was only really focused on Swede.
And that was it’s greatest strength and weakness. McGregor and writer John Romano may have highlighted crucial turning points through news stories BUT it wasn’t explored enough nor was it as hard hitting.
If anything, it was breezed over a little too quickly. Especially when Swede got caught up in the race riots. I almost didn’t recognize Uzo Aduba from Orange Is The New Black. I wish more was made out of her character as the loyal factory worker. BUT then again it would have been a different movie altogether.
I had to laugh at whoever did the make up in this movie. Considering their ages, McGregor and Connelly are still a very youthful looking couple. I don’t think tweaking their wrinkles with CGI and messing about with their noses was really needed and the ageing process as the film flashed forward was terrible. Swede and his brother (Evans) looked decrepit while Dawn only had a stray grey hair.
BUT the finale still packed an emotional punch with Swede reaching breaking point. Unearthing more than he could have ever anticipated. McGregor really delivered the heartbreak and anger perfectly as the film came to its sombre ending.
Despite it’s flaws, it was still an engaging and heartfelt drama that is worth a gander.
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