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A Dog's Life

Kathy Bates makes an art of being a bitch in Dolores Claiborne

Director Taylor Hackford has taken an interesting, and successfully arty, tack with Dolores Claiborne. He films the present in blue tone, leaving the viewer stuck in an icy now, while the past is warmly lit. In the scenes of Selena's childhood, Bates plays the young Dolores as wide-eyed and looking forward. These scenes are always in the warm sun, or a brightly lit kitchen. In the present, the colors are all the dark hues of northern waters. Dolores and her house have not worn well. The house is falling in on itself, and Bates plays the older Dolores as someone whose gaze is turned constantly inward. She spends her time thinking about her life 18 years ago, and her life as Vera's housekeeper. Though she's a murder suspect because of Vera's death, she is not really interested in that. She doesn't want a lawyer, she doesn't care what they do to her and she insults Detective John Mackey (Christopher Plummer) every time she opens her mouth. For Selena, her mother's stubbornness is maddening. The two fight constantly. About the case against Dolores, and about memories that don't match.

Hackford's time sequencing and lighting make one of the movie's major points clear -- the past is full of possibilities; and from a distance, one can review, reflect upon and finally understand it.

Although the question "did she or didn't she?" is at the forefront of Dolores Claiborne, the movie isn't really about being guilty or innocent in the eyes of the law, or even about being guilty in the eyes of the community. Sure, one could hunker down with a big box of Milk Duds and have a fine time enjoying Dolores Claiborne as a Stephen King story about a weird old lady who knows how to handle an ax, but for those who like stories about people, King and Hackford have given us more. Dolores Claiborne is about making decisions you can live with and being understood by the ones you love. Not liked, necessarily, but at least understood.

Dolores Claiborne.
Directed by Taylor Hackford. With Kathy Bates and Jennifer Jason Leigh.
Rated R.
131 minutes.

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