|A Thousand Acres|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Wednesday, 22 April 1998|
"A Thousand Acres" is an ambitious if not always successful re-imagining of Shakespeare's "King Lear," set in the present on an Iowa farm and told from the point of view of the two eldest daughters, here called Ginny (Jessica Lange) and Rose (Michelle Pfeiffer). Director Jocelyn Moorhouse ("How to Make an American Quilt") creates a good sense of environment overall, starting with a striking cloud-scudded sky in Chapter Two, but this film is definitely aimed at drama buffs rather than technophiles
Instead of a king, the Lear figure here is Larry Cook (Jason Robards), the most respected farmer in the county. Rose and Ginny are both farmwives, who live with their husbands (Keith Carradine and Kevin Anderson) on their father's property. Meanwhile, their youngest sister Caroline (Jennifer Jason Leigh)--though reportedly the one who understands Dad best--is the one who's gotten a law degree and moved to Des Moines. Yet, in the end "A Thousand Acres" reinterprets "Lear" rather than simply transporting its time and place as Larry does start to go mad, but not because of his daughters.
"A Thousand Acres" will be best enjoyed by viewers who have a love for well-acted stories of familial conflict--an interest in alternative versions of Shakespeare won't hurt either. Laura Jones' script (adapted from Jane Smiley's award-winning novel) has some nicely subtle touches and some interesting subtext, though some of the dialogue is a bit on-the-nose. Director Moorhouse keeps us well-grounded in the characters' world of lush green landscapes, but there's nothing to challenge your sound system--even the raging storm in Chapter Seven is reined in enough for the dialogue to take precedence. The score by Richard Hartley complements the imagery with restraint and intelligence; and may be worth obtaining separately on CD if you're a fan of instrumental soundtracks.
Lange does a fine job as narrator Ginny, but this film is really an opportunity for Pfeiffer to shine, exuding a level of ferocious bitterness that most of her romantic roles prohibit. Carradine is also highly persuasive as Lange's decent but deeply confounded spouse, all of which makes for a good film, if not a glowing technical acheivement.