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Dolores Claiborne (1995)
Dolores Claiborne is a 1995 drama film based on the novel of the same name by Stephen King, starring Kathy Bates and Jennifer Jason Leigh. It was directed by Taylor Hackford. Dolores Claiborne (Bates), a strong-willed and sarcastic middle-aged woman works as a domestic servant in a coastal town in Maine. The film opens with Dolores having an argument with her elderly, paralyzed employer Vera Donovan (Judy Parfitt), after which Vera falls down the stairs. Dolores ransacks the kitchen and is then caught by a mailman as she stands over Vera with a rolling pin, apparently intending to kill Vera. Vera dies and the police begin an investigation, believing Dolores murdered Vera. The police, however, do not charge Dolores with murder. Dolores' daughter, Selena St. George (Leigh), a successful but depressed and alcoholic journalist, arrives in town to support her mother. Dolores insists that she did not kill her wealthy employer, but she finds little sympathy, as the entire town believes she murdered her husband, Joe St. George (David Strathairn) almost 20 years earlier.
Set on a depressed and perpetually wet island off the coast of Maine, Dolores Claiborne (Bates) is the focus of the film. Looming in her past is a secret: she may or may not have killed her abusive husband (played in flashbacks by David Strathairn). In the present, Dolores has apparently been driven to madness by her husband and her employer Vera, the elderly woman for whom Dolores nursemaids. At the film's opening, we are presented with what appears to be Vera's death by Dolores's weathered hands.
This all sets the tone for the ensuing investigation, in which Christopher Plummer plays the investigator 'thwarted' by Dolores during his investigation of her husband's death 18 years earlier. Selena (Leigh), Dolores's similarly insane daughter shows up to help out in the crisis.
What follows is pretty much predictable. After a promising start, the film begins to rely on way-over-the-top acting, culminating in the worst courtroom scene in years, to get its point across (basically: abuse is bad). Clocking in at well over two hours, Dolores Claiborne is far too long for the audience to stare at the same dull grey sky and dead landscapes, while its stars deadpan for the camera.
Thematically simplistic, Dolores Claiborne is a mildly interesting story with some memorable characters. It's not what we've come to expect from King, and it is a step in the right direction, away from the author's customary schlock horror. But with another King story playing in theaters now as well (The Mangler), it doesn't look like he's changed his evil ways.