Ewan McGregor steps behind the camera with “American Pastoral”

Later on this week, Ewan McGregor officially becomes the latest actor to turn filmmaker when his directorial debut American Pastoral hits theaters. In the lead up to its debut at the Toronto Film Festival, the buzz suggested that McGregor had a potentially Academy Award friendly movie on his hands. In fact, even I predicted the flick in a place or two. That likely won’t come to pass, but it’s interesting to note the talent that he gathered for this outing, both in front of and behind the camera. This suggests that this won’t be a one and done type situation. As such, it’s time to officially consider McGregor to be a multi-hyphenate, not just an actor. He’s in the club.

The film is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Philip Roth. Set in 1968, it follows the Levov family through a melodramatic crisis. They’re led by patriarch Seymour/Swede (McGregor), who watches his seemingly perfect middle class life fall apart when his daughter Merry (Dakota Fanning) and her new radical political affiliation threatens to literally destroy their family, including Seymour’s wife Dawn (Jennifer Connelly). Potential misery follows. McGregor directs from a screenplay by John Romano, who adapted Roth’s book. Also in the cast are the likes of Uzo Aduba, Rupert Evans, Molly Parker, Peter Riegert, David Strathairn, and more. Alexandre Desplat contributes the score, while cinematography is handled by Martin Ruhe. If nothing else, McGregor didn’t lack for talent in helping him achieve his goals. It was just a matter of if those goals were well founded or not.

Reviews have not been strong for this one. It wasn’t quite savaged, but the word out on the street from the festival circuit was that McGregor was unable to capture Roth’s novel. It’s hard to do, admittedly, but it can be done, as James Schamus proved earlier on this year with Indignation. McGregor seems to still have a future behind the camera and is able to direct actors, but this was the epitome of a flawed first feature. It happens, and while I’m certainly still excited to see what he does next in that regard, it seems smart to not immediately assume his follow up is a potential Oscar vehicle. At least, not before seeing it.

Once upon a time, American Pastoral was tipped for awards. Had that still been the case, we’d be talking about campaigns in Best Picture, Best Director (for McGregor), Best Actor (for McGregor as well), Best Actress (for Connelly), Best Supporting Actor (for Evans), Best Supporting Actress (for Fanning), Best Adapted Screenplay (for Romano), Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, and Best Original Score (for Desplat). I suspect that all of that is out of the equation now, give or take Original Score, since you can never quite count out Desplat. Alas, that’s just how the cookie crumbles sometimes. I’m sure McGregor will survive. He’ll be just fine.

Overall, on Friday audiences will begin to see how McGregor fares as a director when American Pastoral begins its theatrical run. It’ll open wider in a week’s time, but a few days from now marks its start. McGregor fans or fans of Roth could be intrigued, but I’m doubtful that this will make too much of a mark on the world. We shall see though, and hey, it’s a film that doesn’t lack for ambition, and that’s always commendable. If you’re interested, feel free to ignore the reviews and check this one out. Who knows? You might even dig the picture. See it for yourself and make up your own mind…

Be sure to check out American Pastoral, opening in limited release starting this weekend.

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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