Monday, April 24, 2017

Dolores Claiborne

By Sati. Monday, April 24, 2017 , , , , , , ,
The story goes that when Stephen King came to visit the set of Misery he was so impressed with Kathy Bates that he wrote the character of Dolores just for her. The book was quickly adapted into a wonderful film, with Bates in a lead role, the film that is sadly very underrated and didn't get the acclaim it deserves. Unlike most of King's work, Dolores Claiborne is not a horror film dealing with supernatural. However, the themes featured in the film - of domestic violence, abuse, growing old and dying are universally horrific.

The story takes place in small coastal town where Dolores Claiborne (Kathy Bates) is accused of killing her employer - aging, mean and wealthy Vera Donovan (Judy Parfitt). Dolores' estranged daughter Selena (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who is a journalist comes to visit her mother after years of not seeing her. We also see the flashbacks of Dolores being stuck in marriage to her abusive husband (David Strathairn) and her and her daughter slowly drifting apart.
There are a lot of themes in the movie - that of being an outcast, battling demons from the past, finding a kindred spirit in the most unlikely person and at the root of it all is a beautiful, feminist message. The three main women in the movie are fierce, complex and they stand united. Vera's lines in the film and her monologue about women sometimes needing to be ruthless in 'depressingly masculine world' is one of the most powerful and sadly accurate scenes I've ever seen in any movie.

All the women in Dolores Claiborne are up against something but they don't give up - they emerge victorious. Dolores takes a stand against her abusive husband. When he hits her her response is grabbing an axe and letting him know the next time he hits her, she will kill him. Selena has monumental issues but she still goes back to her home town because she knows she cannot leave her mother alone. And Vera? Vera refuses to live life - or die - the way everyone expects her to. She is the epitome of defiance.
The most overwhelming sense of dread in the movie is the reality of women having to fight every day, every moment for the basic dignity, security and survival. It's the unjust world filled with men that are handed the opportunities women have to work hard for. Dolores, Vera and Selena all face hardship, suffering and hard life because of what they experienced, what they were pushed to do and what that made them be - outcasts.

The movie is a very touching and powerful portrayal of motherhood with  Dolores being able to survive the worst humiliation, but incapable of standing idly by as something is happening to her daughter. Everything she does, she does for Selena. I loved the scenes between Kathy Bates and young actress who played the young Selena and her scenes with Jennifer Jason Leigh which also had the same kind of grudging familiarity to them. Selena is a very interesting and unique character in her own right - in any other movie, when the truth comes out you would see a major break down scene but because Selena's entire life ever since she was thirteen was a major break down and she already suffered so much the truth cannot make her suffer more. She stands strong and does the only thing she can - supports her mother.
Tony Gilroy adapted the book for the screen and Taylor Hackford made a stunning adaptation - the flashbacks sometimes appear in the frame of the present scene and we get the sensation that we, just as Dolores, are witnessing this woman's past right before our eyes. The film moves very smoothly, uncovering the secrets gradually and throwing more doubts - what really happened to Joe? What really happened to Vera? Why is Selena so messed up?

The film has so many incredible and memorable scenes but there is one that is amazingly touching when we see Dolores caring for aging, aching Vera. Vera who spent her life being harsh and haughty hates her situation. She begins to sob hysterically, crushed by the fact that all she has is Dolores, everyone else hates her and all that waits for her is pain and death. Then Dolores brings her a porcelain figurine of a pig that also plays a tune. The figurine starts playing and we see Vera calm down and Dolores smiling. Such a small, intimate and profound act of kindness of bringing someone a momentary escape from their pain.

There are monsters in this movie, though - Dolores' repulsive husband and the whole mentality of the small town that passed sentence on Dolores years ago and forced her to live as a recluse. Don't think the men in the movie are all portrayed as villainous - there is sweet John C. Reilly and a righteous cop played by Christopher Plummer who is sure that Dolores killed her husband all those years ago so he is hell bent on putting her behind the bars. He just wants to do his job and to be fair all evidence points to Dolores.

The interesting bit is that the only unusual element here - which makes it stand out even more and adds to it being so memorable - is that the key event of the movie happens during solar eclipse. The whole scene is beautifully shot and the red sky above Maine coast line is not a sight that is easy to forget.

Seeing how this movie failed to get awards acclaim and stories very similar to it, directed in a manner that almost seems inspired by Dolores Claiborne went to earn multiple nominations in recent years, even though they are not the first ones telling stories of strong women in harsh realities, only shows that perhaps cinema is deteriorating - show me a  supporting actress turn lately that matches that of Judy Parfitt in this movie. Kathy Bates herself calls her performance here her favorite and I'd lean toward choosing this one as my favorite of hers too. While Misery is a spectacular role, Bates gets to do so much more and show much wider range as Dolores, a woman who is forced to go to unimaginable lengths and to do that she must find the strength inside herself she never knew existed.

Dolores Claiborne is not an easy movie - it has some truly disturbing scenes and the psychological turmoil depicted here is quite overwhelming. It is however wonderfully crafted and told in a very unique way with the use of unreliable narrator, flashbacks blending with present day events and story reveals shown through the characters accessing their long forgotten, discarded or repressed memories. All of that makes it worth seeing but what makes it exceptional are the amazing performances.

Dolores Claiborne (1995, 132 min)
Plot: A big-city reporter travels to the small town where her mother has been arrested for the murder of an elderly woman that she works for as a maid.
Director: Taylor Hackford
Writers: Stephen King (book), Tony Gilroy (screenplay)
Stars: Kathy Bates, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Christopher Plummer

24 comments:

  1. Never heard of this...sounds really interesting tho. Fantastic graphics, as usual.

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    1. That's why I write those posts to get you guys to see those movies! :) Thanks!

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  2. This was an amazing film. Thanks you for reminding (or introducing) people of this.

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  3. I haven't seen this movie, although I read the book many years ago. (I loved the character!) Based on your recommendation, I'll look for it.

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    1. You definitely should, it's a great film!

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  4. Oh shit you wrote a review! lol

    I've never seen this myself but now I really want to.

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    1. I wrote it like a year ago, just added a bit to it since the drafts are a wasteland...and so many Logan posts lol

      You totally should see it....after Glengarry :P

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  5. I think this is an underrated film. Everything you just said is absolutely smacked on. I hope to re-watch this very soon as there's a lot about the film that I like a lot

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    1. I just rewatched it on Sunday before finishing the review and it aged so well, it's so uniquely crafted and the story really is quite timless

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  6. thank you for highlighting this movie, I have never heard of it either! will most definitely check it out now!!

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    1. I hope you'll like it! It's very heavy but it's a great film that is definitely worth seeing

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  7. I concur that it's extremely underrated. Don't know why it doesn't get more attention. Kathy Bates was excellent as the title character.

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    1. So glad to see fans here! I still don't get how the film didn't get at least to the Globes

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  8. Whoa. I'm completely in for watching this one, as I had forgotten all about it. As a die-hard King fan ever since I was a kid, I'd be extra stoked to track this one down. Throw in Kathy Bates in her 'favorite' performance and I'm totally sold (she's basically the best thing in anything she's ever been in).

    Great RF! I mean, review. Great review.

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    1. It's over 2h long but it's very fast paced even though it's a hugely 'internal' movie - so much is happening and the flashbacks are so well placed in the narrative there is not one dull moment.

      Haha, like you commented on RF *Tinkerbel shade dust*

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    2. I'm building up the strength to get to last week's RF, okay?

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    3. Last is nothing comparing to what I have in draft for Friday :)

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  9. Found you through The Film Experience. Very underrated film in it's performances, cinematography, and screenplay adaptation. The studio really dropped the ball in not getting some Award support for Bates, Leigh, and Parfitt. A terrific, tragic thriller.

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    1. So glad to see so many fans of the movie! I'm truly astonished it didn't score big awards, the performances are all fantastic

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  10. One of my favorite movies. It's just so good. The cinematography in this film was just gorgeous. Vera had the best lines. That's one thing I have to give kudos to Stephen King for--the dialogue was just delicious.

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    1. Oh yeah the dialogue was amazing, so many memorable lines!

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  11. Great review. I agree, this is not an easy film to take, but everyone excels in it. Strathairn is such a goddamn beast in this film. That fucking ferry ride, good god.

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    1. That ferry ride is one of the most disturbing scenes I've ever seen. It's so sickening

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