Ewan McGregor has taken the same step as many other actors, to get behind the camera, with his directorial debut, an adaptation of Philip Roth’s novel. In 1968, the classic all-American hero has his life fall apart when his daughter’s involvement with a radical political group has serious consequences. Also starring Jennifer Connelly, Dakota Fanning, Peter Reigert, Rupert Evans, Uzo Aduba, Molly Parker and Valorie Curry.
Firstly reviewing McGregor as the actor, his performance does have emotion and range, relative to the situation but it simply doesn’t come across as deep or meaningful; instead it’s easily received as repetitive and straining. There is the advantage that his American accent is pass-able enough so that it doesn’t become irritating but this isn’t really enough of a positive to make his performance something more than average. The negative to that is the film centres around his performance, most other characters, including his wife and daughter feel peripheral, even though the plot heavily involves the latter. Of all the support cast, Fanning certainly has the most to offer, it is slightly uncomfortable to watch her act with a stutter, despite it being fairly well done it still feels somewhat derogatory, although the better portion of her performance all takes place within a few minutes, using her more as a plot device than actually on screen. Connelly on the other hand may get to be involved slightly more but the writing of her character is terrible, the progression is all over the place and the acting reflects that because it is poor. The sporadic and reckless use of her character throughout the film would undermine her performance even if it had been phenomenal.
As for the rest of the film, it’s sadly just as misguided, a perfect example of which being that at one point Connelly almost fades into the background with lighting and costume choices that make her appear part of the furniture, it’s highly unlikely this was intentional and it’s simply poor film-making. Which is exactly the theme for the entirety, there are countless scenes which visually come across as wrong, badly set up perhaps but either way it’s something you shouldn’t see on a film with this sort of budget or studio. The main struggle however, is an identity crisis: is it a thriller? Drama? Is it about politics? Race? War? Maybe a mixture of all the above, but it’s not enough of any one of them to make something interesting, it’s simply a muddled mess of all. Even in the moments where it tries harder to convey something serious appear weak or lacking feeling and at some points, feels entirely unnecessary. Another element that runs rampant is trying to force the idealistic view of small town America, to the point of which it feels un-American, not altogether surprising given that it is directed by McGregor. Then there’s the use of time in the film, there are several months and years just skipped with little nod to how much or why which immediately undercuts the serious tone it was trying to convey and becomes drawn out with little emphasis.
Overall, you could describe the film as unsatisfying and with a real emphasis which is personified quite well by it’s final scene, one which pretends to be giving the audience a lot, while in fact giving very little. McGregor has taken his first attempt at directing and definitively failed to make something worthwhile, it feels like an extremely misguided choice and completely the wrong time to be making a film of this nature, it’s lacking in almost every aspect to a frustrating degree.