[Screen It]


(1997) (Jessica Lange, Michelle Pfeiffer) (R)

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Tense Scenes
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Drama: A family is torn apart after a father gives his valuable farm land to his daughters.
The Cook family, headed by patriarch Larry Cook (JASON ROBARDS), has owned a thousand acres of prime farming land for many generations. Larry's the most respected farmer in the county and nobody makes a farming decision without consulting him first. He's getting older, though, and not wanting the government to make any money from him or his land when he dies, he decides to divvy up the property amongst his three adult daughters. The oldest, Ginny (JESSICA LANGE), lives on the land with her farmer husband, Ty (KEITH CARRADINE). The middle child, Rose (MICHELLE PFEIFFER), who's recovering from breast cancer, lives with her husband, Pete (KEVIN ANDERSON), right across the road from her father. Youngest daughter, Caroline (JENNIFER JASON LEIGH) is a city lawyer and is the only one not excited about her father's plan. Larry is furious about that and thus excludes her from the deal. Ginny and Rose then accept and manage the property, but soon afterwards the profits plummet as the bills accumulate. The townsfolk, including Larry's longtime friend, Harold Clark (PAT HINGLE), believe the daughters forced their father into giving them the land. Harold then begins badmouthing the daughters, and his son, Jess Clark (COLIN FIRTH), who's returned after a long absence and is fond of Ginny and Rose, can't believe what's happening. Larry begins to believe Harold's rants, and that, combined with his growing alcoholism, causes him to accuse his daughters of stealing his property. Soon he's got Caroline believing that they're mistreating him and the land, and the two file a lawsuit against the older sisters. As things grow progressively worse, the family's structural integrity begins to crumble as bickering, romantic affairs and illness take their toll.
If they're familiar with the novel or are fans of someone in the cast, they might, but few preteens will want to see this film.
The reason was not available, but we'd guess it was for language and thematic elements.
  • JESSICA LANGE plays a woman who blindly stands by her father's actions/behavior until she can no longer take it. She also has an affair with Jess.
  • MICHELLE PFEIFFER plays the middle daughter who battles her recurring breast cancer and must deal with the death of her husband. She also has an affair with Jess.
  • JENNIFER JASON LEIGH plays the estranged daughter who doesn't get along with her father, but later strangely files a lawsuit for him against her two sisters.
  • JASON ROBARDS plays the mean-spirited, belligerent father who becomes even more of an alcoholic after giving up his farm. We also learn that not only did he beat his daughters when they were younger, but he also had sex with Rose and Ginny when they were teens.


    OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
    Essentially a souped up soap opera with big name stars and a sprawling farm setting, "A Thousand Acres" ultimately fails to achieve its goal of emotionally drawing us into the story. This is a cardinal sin for a movie like this, and the fault for it lies directly with the soap opera approach. A little bit of pathos goes a long way, but when the film makers begin to lay it on as thick and heavy as country made marmalade, it becomes ridiculously silly. Here we're subjected to not one or two calamities, but enough to fill several movies. We have adultery (amplified by two sisters having an affair with the same guy), family squabbles that lead to nasty legal action and trials, fertility problems, alcoholism and drunk driving accidents (caused by the previously mentioned problems), incest, and of course terminal diseases that have to kill at least one of the main characters. While one or two of those problems would have worked fine, director Jocelyn Moorhouse and writer Laura Jones (working from the original novel) pile on these tragedies so fast and furiously at the end that any emotional stakes that had been built up are shattered by the relentless onslaught of problems. The cast tries their hardest to make up for the troubled script, and some of the performances are quite good, especially Jason Robards playing against type as the mean, nasty father. The melodramatic directing and writing, however, undermine all of their efforts. While I admit I'm not familiar with the Pulitzer Prize winning novel (by Jane Smiley) from which this is based, I certainly hope it's constructed in a better fashion. While some viewers may be fooled into getting upset over the contrived tragedies and/or by seeing their favorite stars in such predicaments, most everyone else will simply sit back and wonder what else could possibly happen to these people. Although the farm destroying drought, tornado, and locust invasion never occur, one expects they're right around the corner. Of course the story's about buried family secrets being dug up (a farming analogy, of course), and while the incest story is troubling and moving, it stands alone as having an emotional impact on the audience. Most other times the audience is kept at an arm's length from the story and its characters, and thus we never emotionally connect with either. That only makes the sad events more melodramatic instead of emotionally devastating. For example, Larry's quick descent into dementia where he blames his daughters for stealing his property and is completely out of it during the court case, is never explained. Granted some of his behavior might be caused by his alcoholism, but one would assume he's not drunk during the civil court case. What makes this seem staged and forced is that the daughters don't really react to the cause, they just look at the symptoms. That pretty much sums up the film as it forgets the cause of most of the characters' problems -- the strained relationship between the daughters and their father -- and instead focuses on the outward effects, and eventually even leaves all of that to pursue its subplots. By doing so, it abandons and ultimately destroys the interesting familial story it was setting up. That's a shame, for that would have been a far better movie than this wannabe -- and inefficient -- tear jerker. Despite the impressive cast and their decent performances, they can't save this film. We give "A Thousand Acres" a 3 out of 10.
    Family problems highlight this film and at their worst include allegations of paternal incest. Otherwise, we see a family unit disintegrate with members taking sides against each other that eventually rips the family apart. Several sexual affairs take place, but none are explicitly seen (although a bare breast is seen in a medical setting), and while there's not a great deal of profanity, there are several sexual uses of the "f" word. On a good note, while the film does have characters who drink and drive, one of them is killed while the other's life goes down the tubes, both of which show kids that bad things happen when you do that. Beyond that and the other material related to the family crisis, many of the other categories have little or no objectionable material. Still, you should read through the listings to determine whether this movie is appropriate for you and/or your children.

  • Many male farmers drink beer at an outdoor picnic/party.
  • Ginny, Rose, their husbands and Jess drink beer while playing baseball as well as while playing board games twice.
  • Pete talks about "smoking a joint" when he was a younger musician and was with some hippies.
  • The husbands and Jess drink beer inside the kitchen.
  • We see Larry at the hospital after a drunk driving accident, and it's reported that he drinks and drives quite a bit.
  • Pete drinks whiskey from several bottles as he drunkenly drives down the road and later gets into an accident.
  • A man's nose is a little bloody after he's been punched.
  • Larry's a mean and nasty man whose behavior is fueled by his alcoholism. Not only does he treat his daughters poorly now, but we learn that he repeatedly beat them as kids and had sex with Ginny and Rose when they were teens. He also calls them (as adults) "bitches" and "whores" and accuses them of stealing his property although he gave it to them.
  • Although both are married, Ginny and Rose have affairs with Jess.
  • The family gets into a prolonged battle, with Caroline and her father pitted against Ginny and Rose, and many bad things are said back and forth between them.
  • Ty goes behind Ginny's back and gives Caroline important information for the court case.
  • Some scenes where Larry and the daughters confront each other (especially when he's drunk) might seem a little tense to some viewers.
  • There's a scene during a nighttime thunderstorm where the family's trying to get Larry back into the house and he storms off and disappears into the cornfield and some viewers may find this tense.
  • Ginny has a brief flashback of her father entering her room at night to have sex with her (that latter isn't seen).
  • None.
  • Phrases: "Pissed off," "Bitch" (said toward Ginny and Rose by Larry and his friend Harold), and "Bastard."
  • Both Larry and Pete (on separate occasions) drive while drunk, which results in several accidents. Additionally, Pete drinks whiskey from the bottle while driving and throws the empties out his window (littering).
  • None.
  • There's a minor amount of tense music in a few scenes.
  • None.
  • 3 "f" words (all used sexually), 5 "s" words, 3 hells, 1 ass (used with "hole"), 1 S.O.B., 1 damn, and 3 uses of "G-damn," 2 uses each of "Oh my God" and "Jesus," and 1 use each of "My God," "By God," and "For Christ's sakes" as exclamations.
  • A doctor examines Rose and we see her mastectomy scar along with her healthy, but bare breast.
  • Pete mentions a woman he once met who could "suck a golf ball through a garden hose" (implying her skills in sexual matters).
  • We see Ginny and Jess after they've had sex (her bra is seen in an unbuttoned shirt). He mentions that he's slept with many women, while she says (up until now) she's only slept with her husband.
  • Rose confronts Ginny with the fact that their father had sex with them when they were teens and that he didn't rape them, but seduced them ("he said it was good to please him").
  • We learn that Rose had an affair with Jess.
  • One of the men briefly smokes while playing monopoly.
  • Larry's a mean and nasty man who treat his daughters poorly, and we learn that he repeatedly beat them as kids and had sex with Ginny and Rose when they were teens. He also calls them (as adults) "bitches" and "whores" and accuses them of stealing his property although he gave it to them.
  • Ginny mentions in her narration that their mother died when they were young.
  • Larry shuns Caroline after she has reservations about splitting up the farm.
  • Rose says about her father, "Sometimes I hate him. Sometimes I want him to go to hell."
  • Rose has to tell her kids that their father drowned after crashing his car while drunk driving (he did so after she told him of her affair with Jess).
  • Caroline files a lawsuit for her dad against Rose and Ginny after she believes they've mistreated him. This further segments the family and culminates in a legal trial where the daughters see that their father is losing his mind.
  • Ginny and Ty's marriage is strained and they finally separate over the farm issue and Ty's suspicion of her affair with Jess.
  • Family problems, especially how they're often generated by conflicting property interests.
  • Drunk driving.
  • Incest.
  • After berating Ginny and Rose at a church dinner, Harold violently grabs his son. In turn, Jess punches his father.
  • Larry is injured in a drunk driving accident while Pete drowns after a similar one (the actual accidents aren't seen).

  • Reviewed September 12, 1997

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