American Pastoral: Blu-ray review

by Toby Woollaston

AP5Actors who try their hand at directing often yield mixed results.  For every Affleck, Eastwood, or Gibson (who gave us masterpieces such as Gone Baby Gone, Unforgiven or Apocalypto) there are their flagging counterparts. Whoever heard of a film directed by Nicholas Cage.  That’s right, no-one, because his only effort, Sonny, barely registered a blip on the consciousness of the film going public.  It wasn’t a flop; it’s only a flop if anyone cares.  It was just a bland piece of “been there done that” box ticking—a place to hang up your coat when you’ve lost your good looks (although I’m unsure if Cage had any good looks to start with).  There are plenty more ho-hum actor-turned-director efforts from where Cage came from.

Here’s one.

It’s been a while since the somewhat tepid theatrical release, but American Pastoral has finally made its way onto Blu-ray. This film represents another “have a go at directing” attempt by an A-list actor—namely Ewan McGregor, who also plays the film’s main protagonist, Seymour “Swede” Levov.  

The story begins in the turmoil of ’60s America and spans a few decades after.  The Levov family represent all that is “wholesome” about America. Together, Swede, an all-American college star and his beauty-queen wife, Dawn (Jennifer Connelly) bring up their daughter, Merry (Dakota Fanning).  Conservative, yet with a liberal edge, this well-mannered family are blissfully living the American dream when their life is derailed by Merry, who in her teens unexpectedly turns into a violent activist. Her criminal acts and then disappearance haunt Swede and rocks the foundations of his marriage and his repeated attempts to find Merry are met with heartache and ultimately a life-defining discovery.

Philip Roth’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, from which this film is based, has been languidly adapted by John Romano (who also wrote the Coen brother’s worst film; Intolerable Cruelty).  His rather bland hand is a seemingly safe bet for a novice director.  However, I can’t help but wonder what McGregor’s might’ve achieved had Romano injected a bit more spunk into his adaption.

But as it stands this ho-hum release feels very tame—a gunpowder factory would take more risks. What remains is a mildly engaging story maintained most likely because of the source material rather than its cinematic embellishments (or lack thereof).  

The Blu-ray offers two bonus features: Making the America Dream is an 18-minute feature that explores behind the camera, the film’s locations, costume design etc.  The second feature, American Pastoral: Adapting an American Classic, is a 28-minute investigation into the film’s characters, cast, and direction. Both features offer extensive interviews and a reasonable amount of depth.  The feature is encoded in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and there is an optional director’s commentary included.  Its picture is beautifully rendered in 1080p with a 2.40:1 screen ratio and takes advantage of Martin Ruhe’s (Control) deft hand with the camera.

American Pastoral Blu-ray hits shelves 11th July.
 

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.

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