Retro Film Review: A Thousand Acres (1997)

in #aaa2 months ago


Great novels are usually adapted into bad films and vice versa. This can happen even with the novels based on the plays that used to be adapted into successful films. Good example for that could be found in A Thousand Acres, 1997 drama directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse. The movie is an adaptation of Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Jane Smiley. The novel itself is loosely based on the Shakespeare's play King Lear, which was adapted into many films, including Kurosawa's masterpiece Ran.

The plot revolves around Larry Cook (played by Jason Robards), proud owner of huge farm in Iowa and the wealthiest and most respected men of his county. Larry grew old and started thinking how to leave all that wealth to his children. In order to confuse tax authorities he decides to turn the farm into corporation and divide it into three equal shares owned by his daughters - Ginny (played by Jessica Lange), Rose (played by Michelle Pfeiffer) and Caroline (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh). While Ginny and Rose live with her father, Caroline has left the farm, finished law school and works as an attorney in Des Moines. She doesn't like her father's scheme and that enrages Larry so much that he disinherits her. Old man later starts to make life miserable for two remaining daughters - unhappy with the way he gave up control of the farm, Larry succumbs to alcoholism and that leads to violent outbursts, aditionally fuelled by senile dementia. In the end, three women would have to face not only their father but also some unpleasant truths from family past.

Unlike Shakespeare's dramas that can easily be adapted into films, novels, with their complex structure, themes and subplots, are much more difficult task for film makers. So, it isn't very surprising that scriptwriter Laura Jones failed to compress Smiley's novel into feature film format. This is even less surprising when we compare this film with Jones' adaptation of Henry James' Portrait of a Lady. Just like in that film, complex plot is oversimplified while many characters remain unexplored or are simply redundant. Because of that, A Thousand Acres touches plenty of issues, but never actually deals with them. The only issue that is explored in detail is sexual abuse of girls by their father, which, together with black-and-white characterisation of every male character, indicates that the film authors had serious feminist agenda. There is nothing wrong with Shakespeare's themes being explored from feminist point of view, but such concept requires much better script than the one provided by Laura Jones. Usually dependable cast is wasted in weak, undeveloped roles and director Jocelyn Moorehouse, despite all of her efforts, can't prevent A Thousand Acres from turning into just another Hollywood disappointment.

RATING: 2/10 (-)

(Note: The text in its original form was posted in Usenet newsgroup on May 7th 2004)

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