Dolores Claiborne works as a maid for a wealthy woman in remote Maine. When she is indicted for the elderly woman's murder, Dolores' daughter Selena returns from New York, where she has become a big-shot reporter. In the course of working out the details of what has happened, as well as some shady questions from the past and Selena's troubled childhood, many difficult truths are revealed about their family's domestic strife. This is cleverly portrayed with present reality shot in cool blue tones blending seamlessly into flashbacks shot in vivid color. As small town justice relentlessly grinds forward, surprises lie in store for the viewers....Written by
Tad Dibbern <DIBBERN_D@a1.mscf.upenn.edu>
Kathy Bates made quite an impact, so to speak, on the movie-going public with her bravura performance in another Stephen King adaptation, 'Misery.' But showy (and fun) as that role was, it wasn't really much of an acting part--the real heavy lifting in that film was done by James Caan in his quieter, subtler role as the object of Bates's affection.
In 'Dolores Claiborne,' Bates finally gets a King role fully worthy of her range and subtlety. She pulls off the age transformations beautifully--I actually wondered at times whether young Dolores or old Dolores was closer to her real age. She still gets to have fun with King's trademark Maine dialect ('Now you listen to me, Mr. Grand High Poobah of Uppah Buttcrack!' is a line that gets me every time), but she never goes too far, and her every gesture tells of her great loves for her daughter and her friend, without ever exaggerating or sentimentalizing them. It's a remarkable performance, and the actress is probably right to remember it as her best role.
The rest of the film into which the performance fits creaks a bit in places (the final melodramatic scene at the hearing is pretty hokey), and it's complicated somewhat by Jennifer Jason Leigh's performance, which may be *too* good--her Selena comes off as so angry and selfish that we don't particularly *want* her to reconcile with her mother. But overall, the film's an artistic success, done in a classic American style, and using the simple but effective device of changing the color scheme to ease us from the present to the past.
The supporting cast more than stands up to Bates, too. Judy Parfitt is all too believable as Vera Donovan, especially in her younger incarnation--those of us who grew up in tourist towns are very familiar with this kind of harpy queen who comes to town and sets up shop for good. But the part isn't a simple caricature--those tears of anger and pride that Vera cries for Dolores and her daughter feel very real indeed. Christopher Plummer, with his mushy red nose and schoolteacher's diction, overdoes it a bit, perhaps, but it basically goes with the character he's been given. And David Strathairn's Joe St. George surely deserves a high place in the canon of Stephen King movie villains. Strathairn makes him as bad as can be, and yet there's occasionally a playful touch that *almost* makes us see why Dolores married him in the first place.
In the end, a rather underrated film, successful on many levels. 8.5. out of 10.
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