Movie Review: American Pastoral

Movie Review – American Pastoral

You’d probably enjoy American Pastoral. That is, if you are willing to forget the award winning novel it is based on.

You'd probably be entertained by American Pastoral. That is, if you are willing to entirely disregard the award winning novel it is based on.

I thought most people accepted screen adaptations seldom match-up to their written counterparts. Wasn’t the case for American Pastoral the film, it seems. Short of being called a disaster, the movie is described as “flat” and “strangled,” “elusive” and “mediocre.” On Rotten Tomatoes, it languishes at 20 per cent freshness. This makes it worse performing than mindless action flicks like London has Fallen and Skiptrace. A situation that is unfortunate, and at the same time, unfair.

Yes, stripped of Nate Zuckerman’s blighting narrative, the story is reduced to mawkish family melodrama. One from an era that even Non-Americans are no longer astounded by. But does that mean American Pastoral is dreary or unwatchable? Hardly. While director / lead Ben Kenobi, I mean Ewan McGregor, might be miscast, the rest of the cast throws in reasonably spirited performances. Particularly Valorie Curry, who aptly executed a seduction scene that could have so easily ended up feeling ludicrous. The problem here, I think, is really a matter of unrealistic expectations. How do you capture the essence of a masterpiece that is in reality a highly personalised, scathing critique? How do you make that watchable and engrossing, while not losing any of the philosophic essence of the original story?

I don’t think it’s possible. I suspect many top directors would agree. Dear Sir Kenobi’s mistake, is thus to attempt such a monumental feat for his directorial debut.


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I suspect most readers have different interpretations of the lines-between-the-lines of American Pastoral. I felt Zuckerman was an unreliable narrator, with his reconstruction of the Swede’s tragedy peppered by his own disdain for the stereotype of the perfect American Jewish son.

Other readers are likely to have contrasting opinions, some perhaps the polar opposite of mine. None of these readings could be easily translated to screen. That’s the main reason why screen adaptations of literature gems are bound to be contentious.


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The geek is a lover of everything birthed by imagination. He constantly dreams about faraway lands and distant realms, and through writing, envisions himself as a product of these places.

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