Philip Roth fans will feel Indignation

Adaptation of author's book about a Jewish student in a WASPy midwest college looks great but fails to make the grade

INDIGNATION (James Schamus). 110 minutes. Opens Friday (August 5). See listing. Rating: NN

For a film that gathers this much talent, Indignation should be a little more moving. Or a little more anything, really.

Making his directorial debut, Ang Lee’s long-time writing and producing partner, James Schamus, takes Philip Roth’s 2008 novel about a Jewish student struggling to navigate the WASPy world of an Ohio university circa 1951 and delivers a flat, lifeless museum piece. 

The production design is impeccable, the wardrobe choices perfect, the musical score precisely attenuated for sombre portent. But the movie just lies there.

Logan Lerman plays Marcus Messner, a kosher butcher’s son from Newark drawn to the intelligent but damaged Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon). When Olivia takes the lead on their first date, the neurotic Marcus freaks out, the first in a series of ego-driven missteps that puts both their futures at risk. 

In projects like The Ice Storm, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Lust, Caution, Schamus has demonstrated real reverence for his source material. Here, he seems so determined to respect Roth’s 2008 novel that he fails to crack its surface, relaying the plot without ever engaging with the book’s emotional architecture. 

Lerman makes a strong lead, and Gadon is great at suggesting deep currents of loneliness beneath Olivia’s poise, but they may as well be acting in amber.

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