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January 22, 2011

Dolan's Cadillac

(2009, Dir. by Jeff Beesley.)

There are convoluted revenge plots, and then there's what happens in the final half hour of Dolan's Cadillac, a 2009 film adapted from a primarily horror-free story by Stephen King.  I guess that none of what occurs is impossible, but the highly improbable turn of events could certainly leave a skeptical viewer shaking their head in disbelief.  This certainly isn't one of those "get a gun, get revenge" stories we've grown accustomed to; King and his adaptors definitely know that human nature isn't that simple.

Christian Slater and Wes Bentley star as the men on opposite sides of a murder. The film quickly establishes Slater as James Dolan, a Las Vegas based crimelord who is the head of a human trafficking ring. Bentley's schoolteacher and his wife (Saw II's Emmanuelle Vaugier) are caught in Dolan's path after she witnesses the murder of some immigrants during a deal gone wrong.  The witness can't go unpunished by someone with Dolan's power, and Bentley soon finds himself to be a grieving husband who is out for revenge.

King's story (which was published in his Nightmares and Dreamscapes collection) gives the deceased wife a bit more power over the story, but the film only gives us a few shots of Vaugier's ghost urging her husband to avenge her.  The resulting film lies somewhere between King's famous horror work and his well-known dramas, and leaves Dolan's Cadillac feeling like something of an outlier among adaptations of his films.  King does borrow from - or, should I say, pay tribute to - a famous story by Edgar Allan Poe throughout the tale, and does so quite well.  I won't dare tell you which story (it'd be a strong spoiler), but anyone versed with the two titans of print horror should pick it up quickly.

Bentley and Slater will never be accused of being actors with depth, but each fit into the simple story pretty well.  Slater has fun in the heavy role, though the character occasionally is presented as little more than a guy who loves to string together expletives.  Rumors say that the role was originally attached to both Sylvester Stallone and Kevin Bacon (who I'd assume dropped out because he already portrayed the inventor of the "Jimmy Dolan Shake & Bake" in The Air Up There), and I imagine either would have been a more interesting choice than Slater.  Bentley also fits into the "just good enough" category in his role, as he lacks much range to present the grieving husband's "ark of descent".

Despite the actors' limitations, they each seem to take their performances up a notch in the film's final act. The showdown between the two characters is more captivating than it should be based on the hour that preceded it, and it's a testament to King (and Poe) that the events that unfold seem to tap into the viewer's macabre fascination with revenge and death.  Better actors and an increased focus on the husband's grief while seeing images of his dead wife could have added to the story, but the struggle for survival that was put together by the author definitely provides a hook that will at least keep one's attention.

The result is a final product that is certainly not a bad movie, though I struggle to recommend Dolan's Cadillac as little more than something to pass the time as a Saturday afternoon matinee.  King's work has been far better and far worse on the big screen, but Dolan's Cadillac is at least a passable example of the dramatic range his stories can have. 


Michele (TheGirlWhoLovesHorror) said...

Haha, I like how it says "Based on Stephen Kings [WITHOUT THE APOSTROPHE] Bestseller" on the poster, when it was based on a short story in a collection that no one outside of King's fans even know about. Leeeeetle misleading.

The Mike said...

Oh man, the lack of apostrophe KILLS me. I almost didn't use that poster just because of it, but I gave in.

R.D. Penning said...

You know how I love my Stephen King! Great review Mike!