To be fair, there lurks, in both book and movie, the possibility of a certain ambiguity. We never actually see, in any meaningful way, Larry's most terrible sins; we only have Ginny and Rose's accounts of them. The option exists that we are being deliberately shown not a revised view of Lear, but an equally one-sided perspective, exactly as incomplete and unreliable as Shakespeare's. If such a subversion was intended, however, it's deeply hidden.
The film's effectiveness is compromised by the heavy-handedness of the characterizations; Smiley probably deserves better. And, despite a few fine performances, notably from Robards and Pfeiffer, there are other missteps: Voice-over is always a risky device, but, in this case, the final few lines are mawkish crap invented specifically for the film and a good deal more unjustifiably hopeful than anything to be found in the book. Worse yet, this ending evokes recollections of Prince of Tides, which, whatever its flaws, dealt with similar issues with a good deal more insight.
A Thousand Acres.
Michelle Pfeiffer, Jessica Lange, Jason Robards, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Colin Firth, and Keith Carradine. Written by Laura Jones; based on the novel by Jane Smiley. Directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse. Opens Friday.