An old Iowra farmer (Jason Robards) decides to divvy up his land among his three daughters. The two oldest (Lange and Pfeiffer) are happy to add Daddy's acreage to their husbands' farms. But he is turned down by the youngest (sourpuss supremo Jennifer Jason Leigh), a lawyer now living in Des Moines. Enraged by her rejection, Robards splits the land evenly between Lange and Pfeiffer, then promptly grows demented and abusive. Why? Alzheimer's? Stroke? Apparently there are no neurologists on this proudly tended land of prettily photographed barns and windmills. At any rate, Lange and Pfeiffer, fed up, let him wander off into the corn during a thunderstorm.
A Thousand Acres is based on Jane Smiley's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, which is built on the framework of King Lear. With, in effect, two authors to accommodate, the movie exhausts the audience by piling on the tear-jerky plot: fatal diseases and accidents, extramarital affairs, lawsuits, you name it. Lange, who gets a big scene in which she grapples with a suddenly unrepressed memory, is as powerfully natural as that storm. Pfeiffer, the sister most willing to confront the family's past, is good too, but her exquisite beauty doesn't go with this rural landscape. She reminded me less of a daughter in Lear than Eva Gabor in Green Acres. (R)