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Phillip Noyce and Ewan McGregor Jump on Philip Roth's 'American Pastoral' - But Is It a Good Idea?

Photo of Ryan Lattanzio By Ryan Lattanzio | TOH! June 23, 2014 at 2:31PM

Lakeshore Entertainment has tasked Phillip Noyce to direct, and Ewan McGregor to star in, the film adaptation of Philip Roth's contemporary classic "American Pastoral," which has been in the trunk for years now.
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Ewan McGregor
Ewan McGregor

Lakeshore Entertainment has tasked Phillip Noyce to direct, and Ewan McGregor to star in, the film adaptation of Philip Roth's contemporary classic "American Pastoral," which has been in the trunk for over a decade.

American Pastoral

McGregor would ostensibly play Swede Levov, a postcard-perfect upper Middle American athlete-star turned family man whose life is traced from high school, when he has godlike status-- through the politically tumultuous 1960s and 70s. Roth's beautiful 1997 novel shatters the American dream, and the life of the Levovs, when the Swede's eventual daughter dissents from his authority, and the nation's, in a violent act of terrorism. Intercut with fragments of the Swede's life are dispatches from Rothian alter ego Nathan Zuckerman, who encounters the grown-up Levov at a high school reunion in the mid-90s.

Tom Rosenberg and Gary Lucchesi will produce this adaptation of the arguably unfilmable Pulitzer Prize winner. Anyone who has read a Philip Roth novel knows that its true textures lie in the prose, not the plot, and that sentences as crushing as "Life is just a short period of time in which you are alive" don't easily translate. Previous Roth adaptations, however sexy, have not been successful, from "The Human Stain" to "Elegy." ("Goodbye Columbus" was possibly Hollywood's best stab at a Roth movie.)

Noyce is a strong choice to helm; he's currently in post on another lit adaptation, "The Giver." While internationally bankable Scottish star McGregor is a more than capable, sexy and athletic actor--he'd have to play younger and older than his real age, 43--this role cries out for a well-known all-American movie star in their prime, a Redford or Newman. Leonardo DiCaprio? Matt Damon? Ben Affleck? Brad Pitt? Armie Hammer is too young. Ideas?

A similarly damning vision of the American panorama, "The Corrections" also spent a decade in development hell, and also starred McGregor, before HBO put the nail in that coffin in 2012. So I'll believe it when I see it.

This article is related to: News, Phillip Noyce, Ewan McGregor


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.