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Dolores Claiborne

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4

*Also starring: Christopher Plummer, David Strathairn, Judy Parfitt, John C. Reilly, Eric Bogosian, Ellen Muth, Bob Gunton

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Review by Steve Rhodes
3 stars out of 4

DOLORES CLAIBORNE is somewhat of a thriller and is based on a Stephen King story. More later on why I say "somewhat." It stars Kathy Bates as Dolores Claiborne in another one of Bates brilliant acting performances.

Dolores is a mother and a wife who has worked almost all of her life as a maid for a self-described bitch named Vera Donovan (Judy Parfitt). As the story opens, Vera has fallen down the stairs and, we see Dolores starting to finish off her with a rolling pin. The local policeman, Detective John Mackey (Christopher Plummer) wants to convict Dolores of Donovan's murder because Dolores's husband died years ago under mysterious circumstances, and he tried at the time to pen the murder on Dolores but failed. He is still angry since that is the only case he ever lost.

Selena (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Dolores's estranged daughter, soon appears on the scene. Being a hot shot reporter, she tries to save her mother, but her mother sticks her foot in her mouth at every turn and generally tells everybody off. At first, her mother's behavior is so strange it appears she may be mentally deranged. Selena, likewise, is a walking time bomb of pent up anger about something.

The movie is told as a series of flashbacks to the incidents leading up to the death of Dolores's husband (David Strathairn). The scenes of the present have people from the past appear and then the scenes evolves into the past. It was an interesting and effective editing technique. The two parallel stories work equally well, and thanks to the editing, they are interwoven nicely.

The past has lots of abuse, violence, and major alcoholism. Selena was clearly affected by this past since she has become a alcoholic and a drug abuser herself. Selena frequently gets out her hand lotion and rubs it into her hands as she talks. I was never quite sure the meaning of this while watching the show. A couple of days later it hit me why, and it made sense. If you see it and can not figure it out, I am not going to tell you the answer. You will have to keep pondering. Actually, that you still think about a movie after you leave is a tribute to its effectiveness.

The cinematography was certainly beautiful in the golden hues of sunset and in the glow of a solar eclipse. On the other hand, I felt it overpowered the story and would have been more appropriate in another movie. The scenes of dark and depressing grays were also overdone I thought. Better to have the acting and the script convey the mood and have the cinematography complement it rather than overwhelm it.

The acting was good around with one exception. The casting of Strathairn as the evil husband was poor. He is too much of a nice guy, and it showed through. His evil was too one dimensional and was rarely threatening. A thriller needs a strong villain, and DOLORES CLAIBORNE had none. I attribute this problem solely to Strathairn and to the directing (Taylor Hackford) and not to the script (Tony Gilroy).

Having a weak villain relegated the movie to being somewhat of a thriller with a lightweight mystery attached. With a more effective bad guy, this movie could have really taken off. Instead, it became more a character study, which was very effective, and a mood piece, which, as I already said, was overdone.

DOLORES CLAIBORNE runs 2:11, but it did not seem that long. It is correctly rated R for significant amounts of realistic domestic violence and for alcohol and drug abuse. I think it would be fine for mature teenagers. I recommend this movie to you, and I award it ***.

Copyright 1995 Steve Rhodes

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