A Thousand Acres - *

Based on Jane Smiley’s novel, A Thousand Acres pulls out every melodramatic trick in the book, but never establishes a foundation on which to build. The result is about as flimsy and not nearly as interesting as a house of cards.

Larry Cook (Jason Robards) owns one of the largest farms in the area, a thousand acres of prime farmland. However, he’s getting old, and wants a smooth transition of his farm to his three daughters, Ginny (Jessica Lange), Rose (Michelle Pfeiffer), and Caroline (Jennifer Jason Leigh). He devises a plan to set up a corporation with his three daughters. Each of them would own a third of the corporation and the land.

However, things don’t run as smoothly as he’d like. Long dormant rivalries, buried emotions, and hatred begin to run rampant throughout the family. Instead of bringing them together, the farm begins to tear them apart.

There are plenty of characters in A Thousand Acres, but you don’t really care for any of them. Jessica Lange’s Ginny is the closest the film has to a central character, but the strongest emotion you feel toward her is a slight sense of pity. She is the weakest of the three sisters, trapped in an unloving marriage (to Keith Carradine), and incapable of forming critical (or intelligent) thoughts.

Rose is the tough sister. A blunt, in-your-face survivor of breast cancer, she doesn’t think to highly of most people and lets them know it. She’s married to a gruff, reckless husband (Kevin Anderson), and is overly protective of her two daughters.

Caroline is the intellectual. She’s the only one who has moved away (to become a lawyer in Des Moines), and the only one who has (at first) unconditional love for her family.

To stir things up even further, the next-door neighbor’s wayward son, Jess (Colin Firth), has returned home to tempt the ladies of the Cook farm with his worldly ways.

And if that’s not enough melodramatic material for you, we’ve got several illnesses, several deaths, a court battle, financial woes, marital woes, social scandals, and even pigs in crisis. But no matter how often the orchestra swells, none of it is really moving, or even that important. You’re not interested in the fate of a single character onscreen.

Part of the fault lies with the actors, who embrace every half baked plot device the film serves up. But not a one manages to create a compelling or all that memorable character.

Director Jocelyn Moorhouse conjures up a veritable storm of melodrama, but very little substance. The resulting film seems as if it should create bountiful emotions, but these fields are barren.

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