Based on Stephen King’s dark and brooding tale of mystery and suspense, Taylor Hackford’s Dolores Claiborne (1995) is a pensive – if understated - minor masterpiece. The film stars Kathy Bates as a woman who may or may not have killed her husband Joe (David Strathairn) many years before. Dolores is currently accused of murdering her former employer, Vera Donovan (Judy Parfitt) by pushing the wheelchair bound invalid down a flight of stairs at her Cape Cod home. To be certain, Dolores is a bitter recluse – a woman scorned and a battered soul…but is she really a villain?
Having investigated Joe’s death years before, detective John McKey (Christopher Plummer) finds Dolores’ current actions and behavior contemptible. In point of fact, Dolores neither delights in baiting John’s inquiries nor confessing her innocence against insurmountable evidence to the contrary. Never mind that the burden of proof has yet to be met or motive firmly established for either crime. Dolores has been convicted in the court of public opinion. Even her own estranged daughter, Selena St. George (Jennifer Jason Leigh) has her misgivings about letting Dolores come too close to her heart.
Nova Scotia substitutes for the film’s Maine locations, capturing the rustic stark coastal beauty in a decidedly dour hue of dark blues and complimentary depressing grays. But the real story is in the finely wrought threads of Tony Gilroy’s quiet and methodical screenplay. In an era of ‘in your face’ thrillers fraught with blood and guts violence, Dolores Claiborne is a remarkably restrained and stylish mystery that gradually unravels for the audience under Hackford’s skilled directorial guidance. As the audience, and through Bates’ formidable portrayal, we get to know Dolores from the inside out – gradually peeling back the layers of innuendo and rumor to the bare, solid and unapologetic truth.
Warner Home Video’s DVD is just below par in terms of image quality. The anamorphic widescreen picture exhibits a slightly grainy patina. Overall, colors are nicely rendered, with subdued flesh tones. Deep blacks and relatively clean whites compliment an adequate contrast level. Fine details are evident throughout. More grain and some digital artifacts intrude, but nothing that will terrible distract. A hint of edge enhancement and pixelization are also present. The audio is 5.1 and quite effectively rendered with subtle nuances in the sound field even during quiescent scenes. The only extra is the film’s original theatrical trailer.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)