Kathy Bates, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Christopher Plummer, David Strathairn
When Bates is discovered holding a rolling pin over the corpse of her longtime employer, a wealthy and famously demanding dowager (Judy Parfitt), the residents of remote Little Tall Island, Maine, are abuzz—and this hardworking adaptation of the Stephen King novel is off to an interesting start.
As for the cop in charge of the case (Plummer), well, he can scarcely contain his thin-lipped delight. Ever since Bates managed to beat the rap some 20 years earlier when she was suspected of murdering her husband (Strathairn)—thus ruining Plummer's perfect record of no unsolved cases—he has been gunning for her. Plummer's distaste for Bates is matched only by that of her estranged daughter (Leigh), a New York City journalist who is drawn back home by this latest set of Mom-related headlines.
All is not what it seems with the death of the loutish, abusive Strathairn (whom Leigh adored) or with the death of Parfitt. And certainly, all is not what it seems with Bates. Skittering back and forth in time, Dolores Claiborne chronicles the story of one woman who has held her tongue for too long and another who has held her ground for too long. You know a movie is in trouble when the director, seemingly trying to create a portentous mood, offers up countless shots of seascapes and rolling waves. Leigh doesn't have much to do here but stare into whiskey glasses, scowl and snarl out her lines. Parfitt does a nice turn as a martinet with a surprisingly soft center; and it's a great relief to see Strathairn playing something other than a wimpy husband for a change. But that this movie works at all is strictly due to Bates. Tough, sardonic and endlessly smart-mouthed, she's beaten down but never beaten. (R)