American Pastoral is a surprising, complex and equally heartbreaking narrative of loss, love, and American life during the Vietnam war.
American Pastoral begins with all-American college athletics star Seymour Levov, who is affectionately known as The Swede, marrying a beauty queen, Dawn (Jennifer Connelly). Together they create the perfect life in the small town of Newark. Following in the family business, The Swede graciously takes over his father’s local glove factory and starts a family of his own.
Their only daughter Merry (Dakota Fanning) is happy, inquisitive and from a young age intensely affected by everything around her. As she enters her teenage years, however, American troops enter Vietnam. With the world rioting around her, the passionate 16-year-old begins to resent her contented upbringing and rebels against her parents.
In a pinnacle of events, Merry’s disappearance is timed with the bombing of a local gas station and the death of its owner. Overcome with grief and confusion, Swede and Dawn try to find their daughter and slowly lose themselves.
American Pastoral is a gracious attempt but, unfortunately, a misguided interpretation of Philip Roth’s original book of the same name. The screenwriter (John Romano) has sadly tried to simplify a story with very complex themes. I found myself gradually more disappointed as the movie progressed.
The actor’s move far too easily around a spectrum of emotions, so much so that each character’s development begins to feel false and overacted. The performances fall flat in every scene where the unusualness of the story needs to be engulfed by the rawness of the moment.
As a whole, however, American Pastoral is not a true waste of time. The cinematography highlights the intense story and the glimpse into the 60s’ riots, combined with the deeper message of war and family, will leave you thinking long after the film has ended.
Overall, it can be described as an avalanche of twists and emotions compounded into a set of ‘pinnacle moments’ and covered with the artifice of what some would consider acting.