Tuesday, December 5, 2017

DOLORES CLAIBORNE (1995) (Warner Archive Blu-ray Review)


Label: Warner Archive
Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: R
Duration: 131 Minutes
Audio: English DTS HD-MA Surround 5.1 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.40:1)
Director: Taylor Hackford
Cast: Kathy Bates, Jennifer Jason Leigh, David Strathairn, John C. Reily, Judy Pardiitt, Christopher Plummer, Eric Bogosian 

Taylor Hackford's film adaptation of Stephen King's Dolores Claiborne (1995) has always been an under appreciated psychological thriller, starring Kathy Bates in the titular role, giving a nuanced performance that I think was overshadowed by her turn as the deranged super-fan Annie Wilkes a few years earlier in another wonderful Stephen King adaptation, Rob Reiner’s Misery (1990), so it's nice to have a new Blu-ray and a few yearss behind it to give this a watch without some of the baggage that I think followed it on it's initial release. 

The film plays out as two stories separated by 20 years involving the same characters, the movie opens with Dolores (Bates) standing over the elderly Vera Donovan (Judy Parfitt) on a staircase with a rolling pin in her hand, it turns out that the older woman employs Dolores as an in-home caregiver, and it looks like Dolores is about to kill the old crow. Vera dies before Delores can seemingly finish the job, and then the mailman walks in on what looks like a murder in progress, afterward the local police begin a murder investigation.

The story takes place on Little Tall Island off the coast of main, Constable Frank Stamshaw (John C. Reilly, Kong: Skull Island) calls in Detective John Mackey (Christopher Plummer, Murder By Decree) to investigate, and Mackey is well-aware of Dolores, the two having had a run-in twenty years earlier when Claiborne's husband Joe St. George (David Strathairn, L.A. Confidential) died after falling down an abandoned well, and it's apparent that the detective does not feel either death was an accident. Dolores's estranged and deeply neurotic daughter Selena (Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight) arrives on the island to help her mother, but it's apparent that she too believes her mother capable of murder. As the film plays out mother and daughter hash it out in the modern day, struggling to understand/tolerate each other, while Dolores slips into the past as we relive the events from 20 years ago. The visual style is well-done, the present day scenes are cold, gray and de-saturated of color, meanwhile the flashbacks are warm, full of color and sunny. The transitions scenes are near seamless, achieved through old school means before digital manipulation was easily achieved. 

The drama is what hold it all together, the cast are uniformly superb and the writing and execution is wonderful, watching this duo struggle to reconnect during a tragic turn of events is often harrowing. The drama from twenty years ago begins to unfold with a scene of Dolores making fun of her husband's torn pants, he too seemingly laughs it off before taking a piece of lumber to her backside, it's a shocker of scene that sets the stage for the ill-fated couple. Strathairn's character is a true piece of work, a perhaps too-doting of a father who both affable at times and then a mean-ass drunk with a temper, prone to physical violence towards his wife and something even more disturbing, the latter of which is at the heart of the story. 

In flashback we also learn of how Dolores came to work for the wealthy widow Vera Donovan (Parfitt) and how the two disparate women bonded in a bitchy acerbic sort of way, we come to understand their relationship, leading up to the mysteries being revealed in both time lines, but all of it is heartbreaking with only a glimmer or reconciliation at the end. 

Audio/Video: Dolores Claiborne (1995) arrives on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive with a brand new 2017 HD Master framed in 2.40:1 widescreen, sourced from a new 2K scan from an interpositive. The results are quite nice, a crisp image that well serves both he cold, drab scenes of the current day and the golden-hued scenes from the past, including the pivotal scenes that happen during a solar eclipse. Black levels are deep and strong, and there's a nice layer of fine grain that is nicely managed, finely resolving textures and facial features.

Audio on the Blu-ray comes by way of an English DTS-HD MA Surround 5.1, as it was presented theatrically, not a ton of surround use, but the Danny Elfman (Batman Returns) score sounds great in the mix. Optional English subtitles are provided. WAC carry-over the extras from the DVD, we get an HD trailer and a commentary from director Taylor Hackford. 

Special Features: 
- Commentary from Director Taylor Hackford; 
- Original Theatrical Trailer (HD)

WAC come through again with another stellar Blu-ray release for a beloved catalog title, this top-notch dramatic thriller gets a wonderful Blu-ray. Dolores Claiborne (1995) is well-written, phenomenally acted, and in my eyes an under appreciated Stephen King adaptation that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as The Shawshank Redemption.

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