Plot: Selena (Jennifer Jason Leigh) left her small town home behind long ago, to chase her dream of being a journalist. That dream has been realized in grand fashion, as she has interviewed countless famous and powerful people, as well as covered some of the biggest stories around. But now she has returned to her home town, as her mother Dolores (Kathy Bates) has been arrested for murder. Dolores is accused of throwing her employer down the stairs, which she denies. A witness saw Dolores standing over the corpse with a rolling pin in hand, but Dolores insists she is innocent. Selena isn’t all that surprised that her mother would be in such a situation, as she has long suspected that Dolores was capable of violence. As the two reconnect and each explores the past in their own way, the truth about two murders slowly unfurls. Is Dolores a cold blooded killer or a victim of circumstance?
Entertainment Value: Dolores Claiborne is a dark, tense thriller, with excellent performances and in my opinion, is one of the best Stephen King adaptations. The movie has a slow burn, deliberate pace but never feels dull or drawn out, every scene is careful and plays into the bigger picture. The narrative plays out in shifts through time, often shown as living memories, as characters recall the events of the past. I know some dislike this kind of approach, but it works in Dolores Claiborne, adding to the suspense and unreeling the threads slowly over time. The movie also invests the time to develop the characters, as well as the relationships between them. Some of the scenes between Dolores and Vera are heartbreaking, but seeing their bond evolve is one of the most powerful aspects of this movie. The same can be said for Dolores and Selena, so the movie is effective with the character work, without question. While the story is good, the real force behind this movie is the cast and it is a loaded lineup. Kathy Bates is superb as Dolores, in a role she seemed born to take on, being able to convey intense strength and will, while also being vulnerable behind the walls she has built. I’d rank this with her best work, a powerful and memorable performance. Jennifer Jason Leigh, David Strathairn, John C. Reilly, Judy Parfitt, and Christopher Plummer also turn in excellent performances, so there’s no weak link in the chain here. If you appreciate thrillers, character driven cinema, or strong female characters, Dolores Claiborne is one you don’t want to miss.
No nakedness. There is a very dark, unsettling scene that involves off screen sexual content, however. A little blood, from Vera’s tumble down the stairs and a brief instance of self mutilation, but no graphic bloodshed. There is violence, as Dolores’ husband was an abusive man, so some domestic abuse is present. The dialogue has a lot of memorable moments, most of which are supplied by Dolores. She is a bright, strong woman who is never afraid to speak her mind, which leads to a lot of memorable exchanges. Bates is so good in the role, able to be light and humorous, as well as intense when the need arises, just a dynamic performance. Dolores’ lack of filter leads to a lot of quotable lines, but Vera also has some interesting moments. Her insights on life as a woman are brutal and honest, while her odd quirks also provide worthwhile moments. I loved the conversations between Dolores and Vera, as they’re so natural and just feel like two people sharing their thoughts. Dolores and Vera are colorful characters, but they’re so grounded, so they never feel over the top or campy. As such, there’s not much in terms of craziness involved in this one.
Overall Insanity: 1/10