Dolores Clairborne works as a maid for a wealthy widow, and is accused of her employer's murder. Her reporter daughter returns from the big city, to find out what happened, and learns a few things about her own background in the process
Taylor Hackford's clever-clever adaptation of this non-supernatural Stephen King tome demands, and gets, meaty performances from Kathy Bates and Jennifer Jason Leigh, both managing to hold the interest long after one has surmised exactly where their psychological mystery story is going.
Bates is the worn, blunt Dolores, caught, apparently, in the act of murdering her employer. Leigh is her brittle, estranged and substance dependent daughter Selena, a reporter who returns to the tiny Maine island she fled years ago, to see to her mother's legal situation. Holed up in Dolores' isolated tumbledown house, the women chew over recriminations and bitter memories that cover Dolores' years of servitude to her autocratic "victim" Vera (Judy Parfitt), her marriage to abusive alcoholic Joe (Strathairn), and the events that have made the women bitchy. "Sometimes being a bitch is all a woman has to hold onto" is the oft-reiterated defence offered in a tale thin on insight but thick with confrontation.
Meanwhile, a mainland detective (Christopher Plummer) hounds the women, obsessed with proving what he couldn't years before - that Dolores murdered her husband and Selena knows it.
The truth behind the two deaths is slow to unfold in Tony Gilroy's screenplay, which changes King's ranting monologue by Dolores into an intriguingly constructed dialogue of misery and outburst. Hackford's direction is more interesting technically than anything he's done previously, employing startling colour and visual effects to produce arresting shifts in time and tone with some unnerving, Margritte-inspired images. And if not all the arduously reached revelations come as a surprise, there are still some very neat twists, while Leigh's claims as the actress of her generation are once again resoundingly clear.
This intelligently structured and beautifully shot revamped thriller is sadly lacking in one key department. For, despite superb performances by Kathy Bates and Jennifer Jason Leigh, a limp, almost TV movie trite, climax never comes near delivering the shocks it should. A shame, as what could have been superb, is merely average.