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dir Ewan McGregor
scr John Romano
prd Andre Lamal, Gary Lucchesi, Tom Rosenberg
with Ewan McGregor, Jennifer Connelly, Dakota Fanning, Peter Riegert, David Strathairn, Rupert Evans, Uzo Aduba, Molly Parker, Valorie Curry, Julia Silverman, Mark Hildreth, Hannah Nordberg
release US 21.Oct.16, UK 11.Nov.16
16/US Lakeshore 1h48
A family dinner: Connolly and McGregor
TORONTO FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
For his directing debut, Ewan McGregor has crafted a fine adaptation of Philip Roth's Pulitzer-winning novel, often named among the best ever written. It's a riveting story that grapples with complex realities of the American Dream, anchored by a father's love for his daughter. The difficult narrative doesn't translate easily to cinema, but McGregor and screenwriter John Romano have made a skilful, smart and moving film.
Seymour Levov (McGregor) is a Jewish boy nicknamed "Swede" because of his blond hair and blue eyes. A star high school jock and WWII hero, he marries the Catholic former Miss New Jersey, Dawn (Conolly). Their idyllic life grows through the 1950s and 60s with the birth of their daughter Merry (Nordberg then Fanning), whose adolescent rebellion takes a nasty twist when she's 16: she vanishes immediately after a fatal explosion protesting the Vietnam War. Did she plant the bomb? While Dawn struggles to accept the possibility, Swede never gives up on finding her.
The story is told through the prism of Swede's brother Jerry (Evans) and writer Nathan Zuckerman (Strathairn) meeting at their 1996 class reunion, just after Swede's death from cancer. This layering creates a striking exploration of the realities beneath a seemingly perfect American Dream, including pointed references to race riots and terrorism long before Ferguson or 9/11. All of this is beautifully integrated without ever preaching a message.
And the performances are equally understated. McGregor is terrific as Swede, thoughtful and openly emotional, yearning for things to go the way he has always expected as he assumes control of his father's (Riegert) glove factory. Connolly is equally transparent as the beauty queen who is only happy when life is running smoothly. Of course, Connolly's performance shines brightest when things go wrong. And Fanning has a couple of devastating scenes, both as a teen and later as a shattered, thoughtful young woman.
If there's a problem with the film it's that the themes are so subtly woven into the fabric of the narrative that many viewers will struggle to grab hold of them. And the plot leaps through the years from one pivotal moment to the next, paralleling historical events while putting the characters through the wringer. But this is quietly impressive filmmaking at every level, adeptly holding every element in balance to convey big ideas in quietly devastating ways. And there are points of resonance all the way through to the haunting final shot, which is simple perfection.
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© 2016 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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