Even a Pulitzer Prize-winning book with roots deep in "King Lear" has to stand on its own when it becomes a movie. Unfortunately, "A Thousand Acres" never comes close. Plagued by the defection of its Australian director, Jocelyn Moorhouse, during the crucial editing period, the movie has a choppy feel to it, as if individual scenes were filmed and endlessly rearranged--a puzzle that never finds its shape.
The essential core of this movie--the tie of an Iowa farm family to its land--is never established. Husbands and wives wander in and out of farmhouses surrounded by fields of corn, but they are driven by family dissension, not the pull of the land. Without that pull, the movie is crippled. The smells and subtle sights that slip into the bloodstreams of people who are attached to land just aren't here. The cluster of perfectly white farmhouses and the surrounding green fields have the feel of space so big that even the sky can't dwarf it. But the movie fails to capitalize on the power of that setting, and it becomes just a pretty picture playing background to some badly miscast actors.
Jason Robards plays patriarch Larry Cook in various tones of alcoholic rage that seem to be entirely isolated within the film. Even when he is supposed to be railing at one of his daughters face to face, they rarely share the screen. We watch Robards acting in monologue and then watch as it is cut and pasted into the picture without any relation to anyone else. As written, this man may have destroyed his daughters, but on screen, he seems not even to know them.
The men married to the Cook sisters are equally hard to grasp. Several husbands and a lover seem so unconnected to their wives that it's hard even to match them up. Why are all these men living on the family farm of their in-laws under the tyrannical glare of the monstrous father?
The Cook sisters themselves are supposed to carry the movie, and they give it their best, but Jessica Lange, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Jennifer Jason Leigh stretch credibility as Iowa farm women. Ms. Lange comes closest to success with her air of springing from soil other than that of Beverly Hills, but as a trio, they simply overwhelm the story. Ms. Pfeiffer and Ms. Leigh have such strong screen presence that the rest of the cast shrivels when they are around.
It is hard to imagine any one of the three choosing life on the farm, especially when one of the major problems is incest. The daughters' discussion of it has a contemporary, support-group ring that diminishes the outrage.
Australian director Jocelyn Moorhouse may understand the power of rage, incest, and family lands as subjects, but it may well be that she doesn't grasp the pull of this country's heartland over its people. Something went badly wrong between the book and the screen.
Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 499
Studio : Touchstone Pictures
Rating : R
Running Time: 1h41m
Copyright (c) Illusion
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