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
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
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