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American Pastoral: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Review

American Pastoral (2016) movie poster American Pastoral

Theatrical Release: October 21, 2016 / Running Time: 108 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Ewan McGregor / Writers: Philip Roth (novel), John Romano (screenplay)

Cast: Ewan McGregor (Seymour "Swede" Levov), Jennifer Connelly (Dawn Levov), Dakota Fanning (Merry Levov), Peter Riegert (Lou Levov), Rupert Evans (Jerry Levov), Uzo Aduba (Vicky), Molly Parker (Sheila Smith), Valorie Curry (Rita Cohen), Hannah Nordberg (Merry Levov - 12 years old), Julia Silverman (Sylvia Levov), Mark Hildreth (Agent Dolan), Samantha Mathis (Penny Hamlin), David Strathairn (Nathan Zuckerman)

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After more than twenty years in front of the camera, Ewan McGregor steps behind it to make his feature directorial debut.
McGregor has acted more in America than his native United Kingdom and his first film as director reflects that sensibility in its composition and even its title. American Pastoral adapts Philip Roth's 1997 novel of the same name, telling the story of a middle class New Jersey family in the middle of the 20th century.

We open in a nonspecific 1996, with our bookending narrator Nathan Zuckerman (David Strathairn) attending his 45-year high school reunion. Zuckerman, an articulate and accomplished writer, marvels at a trophy case in his alma mater celebrating the athletic endeavors of Seymour "Swede" Levov (McGregor), the older brother of Zuckerman's classmate and best friend, who reveals that "the Swede" recently passed away.

In "American Pastoral", former star athlete and garment factory owner Swede Levov (Ewan McGregor) is disturbed by his teenage daughter's activist streak in the tumultuous 1960s.

This is the story of Swede and his family. We see him fall for Catholic girl Dawn (Jennifer Connelly), who has to negotiate plans for their unconceived children's faith with his father (an amusing Peter Riegert) before they can be wed. Swede and Dawn give birth to Merry, a sweet blonde girl with a prominent stutter. Merry's teens coincide with the tumultuous 1960s. The unrest of the times breeds in Merry (now Dakota Fanning) a social conscience and activist bend. Soon, she goes from simply hanging with college dropouts and shrugging off her father's wishes for her to get an education to being the suspect in an act of domestic terrorism.

After being accused of a deadly bombing, Merry goes missing, to the frustration and bewilderment of her parents. Interested more in making an arrest than finding a missing person, the federal government is no real help. Mom, a former beauty queen and Miss Jersey, loses her mind and requires brief hospitalization. Swede is approached by a young woman (Valorie Curry) who claims to know Merry.

Is Merry alive? If so, is she capable of redemption? These questions haunt Swede, the owner of a garment factory founded by his father. If McGregor and screenwriter John Romano (The Lincoln Lawyer, Nights in Rodanthe) have succeeded, they should also haunt you as you itch to make sense of the Levov family's unraveling and hope some kind of happy reunion can occur, as improbable as that seems.

With Swede's father, a young Dawn (a digitally youthened Jennifer Connelly) negotiates the terms by which she will marry Swede.

McGregor displays taste different from what you might expect given his acting work. Roth is a highly respected author whose works for a long time went ignored by Hollywood. This is the third Roth novel to be put on film in the past three years. It is clear you're watching something that originated as literature and that this film won't be able to match the detail and nuance of a 423-page text.
But McGregor and Romano try their best to make this story salient and have a good deal of success at that. The final act of the film raises questions and may ask too much to maintain your emotional investment and interest. But it's never dull or predictable and you appreciate that.

McGregor actually proves to be quite confident at the helm, and better than you might expect, given the uneven quality of his recent acting output. His performance here quivers just a touch in the one scene that should be the film's emotional knockout punch. But he compels as do Fanning and Connelly in smaller doses.

Premiering in September at the Toronto International Film Festival, American Pastoral was met with reviews unfavorable enough to swiftly put an end to any award season hopes. It is always going to be an uphill battle for an art house film without critical support, as this found out with a weak 31st place debut in 50 theaters last fall resulting in a minor expansion to just 70 theaters. American Pastoral closed a month later, having grossed just $544 thousand.

In what is a first as far as I know, Lionsgate's American Pastoral Blu-ray is inaccurately labeled a Blu-ray + Digital HD release, when in fact it is a full Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack. At least customers can get more, not less, than advertised here.

American Pastoral: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Extras Not Subtitled; Not Closed Captioned
Release Date: February 7, 2017
Suggested Retail Price: $24.99
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9 & BD-50)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on standalone DVD ($19.98 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

American Pastoral may not be a deep-budgeted film, but that doesn't keep it from boasting the same high quality production values on Blu-ray that most new major studio fare does. The Blu-ray's 2.40:1 presentation is sharp, clean, and well-defined. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack does a nice job of distributing dialogue and music.

A scarved Ewan McGregor directs Dakota Fanning in "'American Pastoral': Adapting an American Classic." Photos show off the production design for the old hotel room in "Making the American Dream."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

American Pastoral is joined by the same three extras on each disc.

First up is an audio commentary by star-director Ewan McGregor.

He speaks with the passion and enthusiasm of a first-time filmmaker, commenting eagerly on all aspects from changes made from the text to filming locations and compositions to the period music featured (or sought but ultimately priced out of reach like Jimi Hendrix). It's an informative listen which some of McGregor's fans might enjoy more than the film itself.

"American Pastoral: Adapting an American Classic" (28:02) is a substantial making-of featurette which surveys the cast, characters, and story.

"Making the American Dream" (17:38) goes into detail on technical aspects and the timeliness of the plot.

"Also from Lionsgate" repeats the four disc-opening trailers for Deepwater Horizon, Our Kind of Traitor, Hacksaw Ridge, and Indignation. American Pastoral's own distinctive trailer, prominently using Jasmine Thompson's cover of Tears for Fears' "Mad World" is not included here.

The main menu slowly scrolls the film's title across the screen while scored, silent clips play.

Easily mistaken for one another, the two plain gray discs share an eco-friendly keepcase with an insert supplying your Digital HD with UltraViolet code and directions. Updated from the unsuccessful theatrical campaign, the artwork is reproduced in a cardboard slipcover, complete with the missing mention of a DVD.

Parenting ain't easy for Swede (Ewan McGregor) and Dawn Levov (Jennifer Connelly) in "American Pastoral."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Though it made as small a splash as any 2016 film harboring any awards prospects, American Pastoral is not without some merit, both as the fairly promising directorial debut of Ewan McGregor and a reasonably engaging portrait of a 20th century family. Lionsgate's Blu-ray release boasts fine picture and sound, substantial extras, and a DVD it doesn't even mention. While they won't shoot up to the top of your list, both the film and this edition deserve a look.

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Related Reviews:
New to Disc: The Girl on the Train Queen of Katwe The Handmaiden American Honey Come and Find Me Inferno
Ewan McGregor: Last Days in the Desert Our Kind of Traitor Jane Got a Gun The Men Who Stare at Goats The Impossible August: Osage County
Jennifer Connelly: The Rocketeer Noah Stuck in Love He's Just Not That Into You Dark Water
Adapted from Philip Roth: Indignation The Humbling | Dakota Fanning: Very Good Girls Every Secret Thing The Runaways Push Coraline
Revolutionary Road Carol A Single Man Mad Men: Season 7

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Reviewed February 5, 2017.



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