2016 Awards Profile: ‘American Pastoral’ from Ewan McGregor

Welcome to the 2016 Awards Profiles series, where we talk about high and low-profile films coming to a theater near you at some point this year.  We will analyze the potential for these films to be players for the Academy Awards, and while many of these have the potential to be recognized, many will not either by quality or being pushed back to the following year.  For the next eight weeks, we will bring you a film every weekday to talk about their potential.  If you have a suggestion, please include it in the comments below.  If you missed a film, click on the tag or category Awards Profile.

Director: Ewan McGregor

Writer: John Romano
Based on the novel ‘American Pastoral’ by Philip Roth

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Uzo Uduba, Jennifer Connelly, Dakota Fanning, Molly Parker, David Strathairn

Synopsis (via IMDb): Set in postwar America, a man watches his seemingly perfect life fall apart as his daughter’s new political affiliation threatens to destroy their family.

Why It Might Succeed: American Pastoral is adapted from Philip Roth’s 1998 Pulitzer Prize winning novel. That’s a high bar to reach. Other Pulitzer Prize winners since ’98 that have been adapted include The Hours, The Road and “Olive Kitteridge” (to TV). The McCarthy may have been a swing and a miss awardswise but the other two did well in their respective fields. This certainly puts American Pastoral immediately on the watchlist before we even get a trailer, let alone the onscreen talent which includes Ewan McGregor (also behind the lens) and Emmy/SAG favorite Uzo Uduba in what may be her biggest big screen role so far.

The sensitively political material hits us in the middle of an election, and it will also certainly pair itself with Rob Reiner’s Lyndon B. Johnson biopic LBJ as American Pastoral covers the effects of his presidency. As for technical categories, the 60s period lends itself to rich production, costume design as well as makeup and hair. The cinematographer is Martin Ruhe who shot the gorgeous Control and The American for Anton Corbijn so at the very least it should have a confident visual style. Writer John Romano is a veteran of TV having consistently contributed since the late 80s as well as having The Lincoln Lawyer and the story credit for Intolerable Cruelty on his résumé.

Why It Might Fail: However, Ewan McGregor may be an established actor (one unjustly yet to be nominated), this is his feature directorial début. Can he manage the ambitions and tenderness of the material? The book is over 400 pages and told through subjective flashbacks so it’ll be interesting to see how this can translate to the big screen. You know what they say, the book is always better, and the synopsis doesn’t sound half as cinematic as The Road for instance. Is there an audience for this? Could this have been a better TV show, especially in the current climate?

An adaptation has bounced around Hollywood since the early 2000s but American Pastoral completely remains to be seen at this point. It’s currently in post-production but there’s no distributor attached yet so it’s a question of whether the world will get to see it this year or not. Without a precedent of awards buzz for the untested director, cast and crew, this is a hard one to call but hard to pass over too. How good does it have to be for the fans of the book to not consider it a disappointment?

Oscar Potential: 

  • Best Picture
  • Best Director
  • Best Actor – Ewan McGregor
  • Best Adapted Screenplay
  • Best Film Editing
  • Best Costume Design
  • Best Production Design
  • Best Makeup & Hairstyling

Share your thoughts in the comments or on the message forums!

Check out the first official set of
Year-In-Advanced Oscar Predictions
and see where American Pastoral ranks!