By Christian Le Feuvre (Manchester, UK)
There are some very popular movie adaptations of Stephen King novels, The Green Mile, The Shawshank Redemption and Misery to name but a few, however, there is one that in my opinion, is vastly over-looked and that is Dolores Claiborne.
The film stars Kathy Bates and Jennifer Jason Leigh and is a gripping film full of family secrets and torments, and opens with the title character found standing over the body of the rich woman she works for as her housekeeper and is, of course, suspected of her murder.
Christopher Plummer plays the local detective determined to see Dolores found guilty, as we discover that he bears a grudge against her as he couldn’t close a similar case from years earlier involving her husband, which he believes she was responsible for too.
Leigh plays ‘Selena’, the estranged daughter of Dolores who works as a reporter in New York, and when she learns of her mother’s arrest she returns home for the first time in many years to cover the story and discover the truth, but also she to has to come to terms with some horrific events from the past that happened to both her and her mother, and through the course of the movie we discover why she is estranged and seemingly resentful of her own mother.
The main fabric of the movie is the grim reality of these characters present day lives and throughout the film, we learn more and more until we get to near the end when we truly understand the reasoning behind how they got to be this way.
The film takes us to this via a series of flashbacks, brilliantly interwoven into the narrative, and the way they were blended with the present was impressive and integral to the story rather than just for cinematic effect.
Dolores Claiborne is one of Stephen King’s own personal favourite adaptations of his novels and is superbly directed by Taylor Hackford, who also directed The Devil’s Advocate and Ray. The cinematography was also incredibly good, and the eclipse scene brought together the direction, acting, writing and visual effects in a seriously impressive way.
I was seriously impressed by all the cast. Leigh was terrific as tormented daughter Selena, Plummer is fantastic as the grumpy, determined detective, David Strathairn is brilliantly disturbing as ‘Joe’ and Judy Parfitt plays ‘Vera Donovan’ the rich over-bearing employer so perfectly, appearing at first to be a cold-hearted snob, but there is hidden emotion in her character than she shows at first and when she does, it is so significant.
But, it has to be said, Kathy Bates is phenomenal as the title character and gives the most powerful and intense performance here. Dolores is a heartbreaking character, full of torment and hurt and Bates communicates that without words but in her eyes, her face and it’s seriously compelling. Even though she won the Oscar for Misery, for me, this is easily my favourite role of hers and I was stunned that she wasn’t even nominated for an Academy Award for this role. Bates herself has said it is her favourite role of all she has played.
I found this film years ago and it never fails to impress. It has realistic and intriguing characters, a storyline that will keep you guessing, and will definitely make you look at each character differently as the film progresses.
My only criticism is that it is a little bit too long and can seem to drag on a bit toward the end. The film builds up to something very powerful and climactic and had the last 15 minutes been trimmed down a bit, I think it would have had more effect than it did.
This is a genuinely gripping psychological thriller, it may not be as memorable as Misery, and there isn’t really that ‘hobbling scene’ stand-out moment, but due to the incredibly commanding performances, it is an extremely chilling and very underrated movie.