*NEW* AMERICAN PASTORAL REVIEW *NEW*

american_pastoral

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.

3/5

*NEW* INDIGNATION REVIEW *NEW*

indignation

A stellar turn from Lerman and good chemistry makes this uneven coming of age drama one to watch.

In 1951, Marcus (Logan Lerman), a working-class Jewish student from New Jersey, attends a small Ohio college, where he struggles with sexual repression and cultural disaffection, amid the ongoing Korean War.

I’m not familiar with Philip Roth’s works so I can’t make comparisons on the film’s adaptation of his 29th novel BUT it was a well acted, if tragically patchy affair.

This was a perfect transition for the Percy Jackson star. Proving that he will be one to watch in the future. I know some of you will be more familiar with Lerman in The Perks of Being a Wallflower (A film I have yet to watch) BUT I felt his character was too passive to make an impression in Fury.

However, he was a charismatic lead that carried the story when the pace tragically dragged. Context is crucial when approaching this piece. The backdrop of the Korean War became a tipping point for a clash in values and (most importantly) beliefs.

We follow Marcus as he escapes the call to war and the overbearing shadow of his overanxious father (Danny Burstein – Boardwalk Empire). A man troubled by the turn in tide and loss of life.

I did find myself fidgeting a little through all the intellectual academia anecdotes as Marcus tries to shy away from his heritage. BUT by doing so; he is soon under the watchful eye of a prospective Jewish fraternity and designated to a dorm with the only Jews on campus. Well, according to his high strung room mate Bertram Flusser anyway.

Ben Rosenfield (Irrational Man) was highly entertaining as Flusser. Outspoken and he doesn’t care who knows. Blaring classical music to the masses and sharing his views whether you want to hear them or NOT.

“There were no girls like Olivia Hutton back in Newark”.

BUT beneath all the (endless) Bertrand Russell (A renowned social critic. Yeah. I had to do some research after viewing) quotations and heated societal debates, there was still a boy meets girl love story at its core.

The lovely Sarah Gadon (Stephen King’s 11.22.63) delivered an engaging performance as the mysterious Olivia. The girl that would trigger Marcus’ sexual awakening in an age of repression. A much needed presence.

The pair had great chemistry and I was happy to persevere as their romance blossomed. Her upfront approach in sex was a complete culture shock for the timid Marcus. Putting it down to her parents’ divorce.

However as we got to watch their relationship grow, the pair soon opened up and we got a better insight into Olivia’s past. Punished with a “reputation” for her promiscuity. A reputation that threatened to cause a rift between Marcus’ friends and family.

Tracey Letts (Homeland) was excellent as the scrupulous Dean Caudwell. His casual conversations nothing more than preaching. Enforcing his values on Marcus. Believing the boy to have “lost his way”. Interrogating him on the exact details of his familiarity with Olivia and even his own beliefs.

Right down to why he didn’t put down on his application that his father was a kosher butcher? A ploy to hide his religion? Every question suggesting an ulterior motive. Making assumptions about the headstrong protagonist. The heated exchanges were quite riveting to watch and really showed Lerman’s potential with James Schamus’ dialogue coming to life.

Indignation certainly made an interesting contrast to the present day. Religion, divorce and sexual expression are still rife BUT have thankfully shown a lot more progression and acceptance compared to the fifties.

BUT it was all a little too “talky talky” for my liking. The premise felt like something more suitable for a TV movie or (even better) as a theatrical performance.

It didn’t help that when things seemed to reach boiling point with Marcus having to make a decision, it ended so abruptly and on such a bleak note that I was left feeling a little disappointed.

Despite some great performances from some underrated actors, I fear this arduous affair may get lost in the ranks.

2.5/5