Review by J.T. Johnson
ORIGINAL RELEASE DATE: November 30, 1990
DIRECTOR: Rob Reiner
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Barry Sonnenfeld
WRITER: William Goldman
MUSIC: Marc Shaiman
After I finished watching “Misery”, a film directed by Rob Reiner and based on the novel by Stephen King, I couldn’t help but feel the spirit of Alfred Hitchcock hovering over the film. As it turns out, that was a pretty accurate feeling. I learned afterward that Reiner did indeed watch Hitchcock’s thrillers for inspiration since he was not used to directing thrillers at the time.
King loved Reiner’s adaptation of “The Body”, a short story where the title for the film was changed to “Stand by Me”. When it came time to sell the film rights to “Misery”, King decided that the only people who could have it would be Castle Rock. He also insisted that the film be either produced or directed by Reiner.
The movie, with a screenplay by William Goldman, is quick to get to the point. Paul Sheldon (James Caan) is famous for writing a series of cheesy romance novels featuring a Victorian era woman named Misery Chastain. In the last book of the series, though, Paul is about to kill off Misery. He goes to a cabin to begin work on his first post-Misery book.
After completing the first draft, Paul leaves his cabin in order to head back to New York and turn in the manuscript. Unfortunately, a blizzard soon forces him off the road and he is critically injured. He is saved by a nurse named Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), a woman who takes him to her isolated house due to the extreme blizzard.
At first, it seems that Annie is a straightforward nurse that is just trying to help Paul heal. Soon, though, we discover that she is an obsessed fan and she wants Paul to stay with her after she discovers that he killed Misery in the latest book and she wants him to reverse this with another book. Being that he can’t move that well due to two horribly broken legs, Paul must devise a way to escape Annie or suffer the consequences.
Bates was nominated and won the Academy Award for Best Actress for playing Annie. There is a good reason for that as Bates has to carry the film. If Annie is not convincing or too over-the-top, then the whole film falls apart.
Bates smoothly plays both the kind and nurturing woman and the obsessed psycho that shows up from time to time. Even more creepy are the quiet moments where Annie is just “feeling blue” and she calmly contemplates putting bullets into her gun. It leaves you to question if she intends to use it on herself, on Paul or on both of them.
That’s the other part of the film’s tense setups. When Annie leaves the room, Paul begins to come up with plans to escape. You’re on the edge of your seat hoping that Annie will not burst in on him and screw up whatever Paul is cooking up. You also feel devastated when certain plans don’t work due to the fact that you saw what Paul had to do to set up the plan in the first place.
The movie is more about setting up an intense thriller instead of showing off a bunch of gore, though there is the now infamous hobbling scene. Even that scene is left mostly up to the audience’s imagination, but that is why it works. Sometimes all you need is to see someone swinging a hammer before the camera cuts away and you hear the cracking of the bones while coming up an intensely more graphic image in your head rather than what they can show you on film.
I can honestly say that Reiner would have made Hitchcock proud. I was sitting in my chair hoping that Paul would make it out alive while also being fascinated by Annie and her perfectly psychotic behavior. The movie is not entirely perfect as there are some oddly disjointed moments such as a montage to show the passage of time that goes on a little too long. Still, as far as being a Stephen King adaptation goes, this is one of the best films out there and if you’re a fan of thrillers in general, then this one is definitely worth your time.