2016 Certificate: 15

Synopsis

Set in the late 1960s, this Patty Hearst-like story of the dark side of the counter-culture chronicles the destruction of an American family - headed by a stern patriarch (Ewan McGregor) - when their radicalised daughter (Dakota Fanning) disappears after taking part in a lethal bomb attack on the local post office. McGregor makes his directorial debut with this adaptation of Philip Roth's novel.

Director

  • Ewan McGregor

Cast

  • Dakota Fanning

  • Jennifer Connelly

  • Ewan McGregor

  • Uzo Aduba

  • Valorie Curry

  • Molly Parker

  • David Strathairn

Review

The choice of American novelist Philip Roth's sprawling, Pulitzer Prize-winning tome for a directorial film debut is a brave one for Ewan McGregor.

​That he chooses to star as Seymour Swede Lvov, the Jewish father struggling with his daughter's lethal radicalisation by a shady political sect, is even more impressive.

Yet he never does the richly layered book justice, starting brightly but increasingly flailing as the narrative becomes overwrought when it should understate.

Lvov is married to non-Jewish beauty pageant winner Dawn (Jennifer Connelly) and they live in the leafy countryside outside New York in an idyllic farmhouse, paid for by Swede's job in his father's glove-making business.

It's a time of social upheaval - there are race riots in the streets and student protest groups against the Vietnam War are crystallising into direct action cells such as terrorist group The Weathermen.

Introduced to this febrile atmosphere is their daughter Meredith (Fanning), a teenager afflicted by a pronounced stutter and possibly a dubious sexual interest in her all-American dad.

She's quickly seduced by the political counter-culture to the extent that she takes part in the bombing of a local post office (in which the owner and family friend dies) and then disappears underground, beyond the reach of her desperate parents.

This is the point where the emotional heft of the novel kicks in, but Swede's desperate bid to keep things together - i.e. find his daughter and support his unravelling wife - play second fiddle to a subplot where one of Meredith's co-freedom fighters attempts to fleece him of cash via a hotel honeytrap.

Drama gives way to melodrama and the final reel remains strangely static when the disconnect between Swede and Meredith should be at its strongest.

It was a tall order - to broadly dramatise the breakdown of American society on every significant level - from home and religious life to international catastrophes such as the Vietnam War - and a debut director was always going to struggle.

Tim Evans