Starring Kathy Bates, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judy Parfitt, Christopher Plummer, David Strathairn, John C. Reilly, Ellen Muth, Eric Bogosian, Bob Gunton. Directed by Taylor Hackford. (1995, 131 min).
I've been a fan of Stephen King most of my life and have read nearly all his books. With few exceptions, I've always preferred the horror novels to those which dabble in other genres. Interestingly, though, it's often the latter which have ended up being better movies, even improving on their source material.
I suppose part of that is because horror has always been difficult to pull-off well, and why the few great adaptations of King's bread-&-butter, like Carrie, The Dead Zone, and The Mist, stand out as true classics. But I think the main reason is, even when King is writing mysteries, straight thrillers or slice-of-life narratives, his characters are still rich, vivid and complex. What self-respecting actor or director wouldn't want to get their mitts on them?
Though not as widely revered as Misery, The Shawshank Redemption or Stand by Me, Dolores Claiborne is another example of one of King's less compelling novels scoring as a terrific movie. Kathy Bates didn't nab another Oscar nod for this one, but her performance as the titular character, who may or may not have murdered her ailing employer, is just as remarkable. She's surrounded by a talented cast which includes Jennifer Jason Leigh as Selena, her estranged daughter, and Christopher Plummer as Mackey, a detective obsessed with proving her guilt; he remains convinced Dolores also murdered her abusive husband (David Strathairn) 18 years earlier, the one case he was never able to close.
But Dolores Claiborne isn't a standard mystery. It's also a tragic character study of an unhappy woman who still suffers from her family being torn apart by abuse (revealed through vivid flashbacks). The film is filled with surprises and revelations, the dark, somber mood aided considerably by the beautifully-dreary winter setting (which looks stunning on Blu-Ray).
Most importantly, Dolores Claiborne tells a great story, which unfolds better on the screen than it did on the printed page. The characters and performances are first-rate, as is the cinematography, all of which help make this director Taylor Hackford's best, most underappreciated film.
AUDIO COMMENTARY - By Director Taylor Hackford
PURR-R-R...LIKE A GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS