THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: Thursday, March 30, 1995 TAG: 9503290042 SECTION: DAILY BREAK PAGE: E5 EDITION: FINAL TYPE: Movie Review SOURCE: BY MAL VINCENT, MOVIE CRITIC LENGTH: Medium: 82 lines
KATHY BATES acts the heck out of ``Dolores Claiborne,'' a small-town murder mystery that, under usual circumstances, might have been no more than yet another ``thriller'' that isn't so thrilling.
As it is, director Taylor Hackford crafts something that is found all too rarely in movies nowadays - plain, out-and-out good storytelling.
This is the kind of yarn that you might spin while gathered around the fireplace on a cold night. As a movie, it is thoroughly satisfying.
Bates, who won an unexpected Oscar for playing the psychotic heroine of ``Misery,'' another Stephen King novel adapted to the screen, returns to King territory here to play the title character - a feisty, individualistic Maine woman who may or may not have killed two people.
Her abusive husband (David Strathairn) died some 20 years ago under mysterious conditions. She was cleared of any charges, which greatly miffed Detective Plummer. Now, her wealthy employer, Vera Donovan (Judy Parfitt), has been found dead with Dolores standing over her. It's even more suspicious in that the evil old lady left her fortune to Dolores, her housekeeper and companion.
In any case, she isn't taking any nonsense about the charges. When the pesky detective, played by Christopher Plummer (a long time since ``The Sound of Music'') demands a hair sample from her, she quips, ``Take all you want. I'm not in any beauty pageants this week.''
Amid the investigation, her hotshot daughter (played by the quirky Jennifer Jason Leigh) returns to town.
The plot twists of ``Dolores Claiborne'' are predictable, but it doesn't matter. Hackford treats the flashbacks in such an imaginative and subtle way that he fully suggests the surrealistic possibilities inherent in film. Characters move easily from past to present, and back, in a stream-of-consciousness way that was developed on stage in Arthur Miller's ``Death of a Salesman.'' Hackford pulls tricks like turning a rolling pin into a scene of New York streets or having Dolores framed by a tear in the rundown house's wire-screened door. Yet, he has none of the runaway camera work that characterizes a less experienced director. There is nothing in his background (including ``An Officer and a Gentleman'') to suggest that he might be able to direct with as much discipline as shown here.
The cast is uniformly good. Bates deserves roles like this She brings a level-headed strength to her acting as she is asked to play Dolores both as a young, hopeful woman and as an older rebel.
Leigh, on the other hand, displays yet another of her showy, groping repertoire of mannerisms - a few left over from ``Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle.'' Since her role is not as interesting, she tries to suggest all manner of hang-ups for Selena, the daughter. Still, she is always interesting.
Strathairn should be a major star by now. It seems he always gets stuck as the third lead in films that feature major female stars. Here, he's highly effective as a husband who can turn violent with no warning whatsoever.
Stealing scenes galore is British actress Judy Parfitt as Vera, a woman who uses her wealth to bully and control her servants. Parfitt was equally evil in TV's ``The Jewel and the Crown,'' but we had no clue that she could have played an American role as convincingly as this.
``Dolores Claiborne'' offers fine acting and effective storytelling. ILLUSTRATION: CASTLEROCK
Christopher Plummer suspects Kathy Bates of murder in the mystery
Cast: Kathy Bates, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judy Parfitt,
Christopher Plummer, David Strathairn, Eric Bogosian
Director: Taylor Hackford
Screenplay: Tony Gilroy, based on the novel by Stephen King
Music: Danny Elfman
MPAA rating: R (language, sexual abuse)
Mal's rating: ***1/2
Locations: Chesapeake Square in Chesapeake; Janaf and Main Gate
in Norfolk; Kemps River, Lynnhaven 8, Pembroke and Surf-N-Sand in