Warner Archive has released the 1995 suspense thriller Dolores Claiborne on Blu-ray. I was very excited to get to watch this one again because I consider it one of the top Stephen King adaptations. The film is directed by Taylor Hackford who is known for his visually interesting character pieces like The Devil’s Advocate, Ray, An Officer and a Gentleman, and Against All Odds to name a few.
Kathy Bates stars as Dolores Claiborne, an older woman with dark secrets in her past that come up when she is accused of killing her employer. Dolores daughter Selena, played to perfection by Jennifer Jason Leigh, is a successful writer for a Manhattan magazine. She is tasked with returning home to cover the story of her mother. David Strathairn, one of the best modern character actors, plays Dolores’ husband Joe. The cast is rounded out with Christopher Plummer, Judy Parfitt, John C. Reilly, and Eric Bogosian.
Dolores Claiborne is sort of an unheralded gem that was only recently brought back into the public eye when Gerald’s Game was released to acclaim by Netflix earlier this year. The subject matter and eclipse setting are linked in these two King stories. These are both really great, thrilling character studies but I feel the ending to Gerald’s Game is not as strong as Dolores Claiborne‘s.
The script is very strong and written by Tony Gilroy, who is more recently known for scripting the Bourne films and Michael Clayton. The story itself is fairly straight forward although there are flashbacks within flashbacks. It’s all handled very well as the viewer slowly learns more and more of the story and background. It plays like a soap opera, but a high quality one. The relationships between the lead characters are complex so it was a great choice to have so many wonderful actors portraying each one.
Some seeing the name of Stephen King attached might think it’s more of a straightforward horror story with cheesy scares included. But that’s not the direction this one goes in. The dialog is memorable and very King-like but there is a subtly, a rawness of character and the film is more psychologically satisfying. That to me elevates it above your typical crime schlock pumped out by Hollywood. There are no ghosts, goblins or sentient semi-trucks in this one.
David Strathairn does such a good job in this film. I think I first noticed his acting in Sneakers (as Whistler). He plays one of the greatest King antagonists in film and hardly anyone talks about him. He brings a lot of humanity to the role but gets dark when the situation calls for it. There are so many “real” performances in the film that feel just right that really no one character steals the show.
Danny Elfman does the music for this, but it’s more of a subtle uncomfortable undertone that runs through his compositions, rather than his bombastic comic book fare. I quite like his decisions in this film and think the score really adds to the already amazing feel. The color tones and cinematography are very interesting too and Warner Archive does a fantastic job in transferring that look to their home release.
Audio Commentary with Director Taylor Hackford: The directors commentary (ported from the DVD release) is a good one that you should check out. He talks at length about the conception of the ideas, working with King and technical details from filming. It’s very interesting.
Dolores Claiborne Final Thoughts:
Dolores Claiborne may be Kathy Bates greatest role and it deserved more acclaim than what it received at release. Thankfully Warner Archive has made the film available for home viewing and I highly recommend picking it up. It’s a necessary addition to any collector that enjoys a thrilling, character driven crime story.
Dolores Claiborne on Blu-ray is available now at Amazon and other fine retailers.
Note: This Blu-ray was sent to us for review. This has not affected our judgement or editorial process in any way. Please contact us if you have any questions regarding this process.