Wow, someone took Dolan’s Cadillac, one of my favourite Stephen King short stories, and made it into a movie! Awesome! Cool, not a bad cast either. Christian Slater and Wes Bentley. Good actors. A little bit of edge to them. This might be alright. What’s that? It’s a straight to DVD release? Well that’s not promising. Hmm? It was made in Saskatchewan? By a Canadian sit-com director? Okay, now you’re just messing with me…
As it turns out, it’s all true. King’s sun-scorched tale of madness and revenge has indeed been brought to the screen, even if that screen is the one hooked up to your DVD player.
The story, King’s tip of the hat to one of Poe’s great stories, The Cask of Amontillado, tells the story of Robinson, a regular guy, 6th grade teacher, taxpayer, etcetera, whose very likely pregnant wife is murdered by a gangster to prevent her from testifying against him in a murder case.
Robinson, mad with grief and anger, plans an elaborate revenge on the gangster, Dolan, and as he descends into a pit of despair and madness, we get to take that trip with him. The film version, though surprisingly competent, unfortunately does not accomplish this feat, and so becomes a mixed bag of pleasures and frustrations.
First off, let’s talk casting. Though a good actor, Wes Bentley is unable to dial down his oddball intensity to be convincing as the everyman Robinson is supposed to be. The character needs to start out as a guy we all know. That guy who teaches down at the local middle school who’s a nice guy but kind of dull, plays softball on the weekend maybe, but is getting soft and comfortable as he begins to age. Instead we get Wes Bentley, who has so much edge that when you see him with a group of 6th graders at the beginning of the film, you wonder why someone doesn’t call the police because whoever this guy is, he definitely should not be around kids. By the time we get to the final, harrowing moments of the film, we should see a guy who’s been amped up from 1 to 10, but instead we get Bentley going from 10 to 11.
Also of note is Christian Slater as Dolan. Here is some far more interesting casting. He is able to once again channel his inner Jack and give us a character that not only does vile things, but revels in them. The only negative with the character is that some of his dialogue is so forced that it drags you out of the film. There are scenes between Dolan and his henchman that play like conversations between two weird philosopher-poets. Not to mention a crazy racist rant that Dolan goes off on midway through the film that is so written that you start wondering which awful Tarantino wannabe movie the writer was watching moments before he wrote that scene. The speech is so lame and contrived that it trumps anything in Boondock Saints.
As for the other aspects of the movie, most of it is pretty good. Amazingly, the countryside outside of Regina makes for a passable substitute for the Nevada desert, and the whole thing is shot quite well. The pace, though uneven, never plods, and there are a few interesting, if eccentric, performances sprinkled throughout the film.
The big flaw of Dolan’s Cadillac, however, is the decision to keep the nature of Robinson’s revenge as a surprise, thereby shortchanging the element that made the short story so riveting. In the original story, the planning and preparation of the trap are the main focus, and we are in on the plot from the start. We watch Robinson as he plans and researches, and we’re there with him as he works against time to make the plan come off. We witness him becoming a physical wreck and going mad in the desert sun as he suffers and works day and night to build and set his trap.
Unfortunately, the filmmakers are more interested in the moment when the trap is sprung, aiming to surprise the audience. So when it comes time to build it, we are given a brief montage showing Robinson busy working at something. He is shot from the waist up working construction equipment in a fairly generic way and the only hint we have that there’s any suffering going on is a quick and tricky shot of him holding up his hands, gloves torn, silently screaming. Then it’s back to business and he’s work work working again like a busy little bee. Too bad, because there would have been a lot more suspense if the audience was on the edge of its seat wondering if he can pull off his plan and whether he should even go through with it. Instead the audience is left wondering what the hell is that crazy bastard up to? and paid off with a surprise that’s over in seconds.
Dolan’s Cadillac is presented in an enhanced 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Images are sharp throughout the film, with nice rich interior shots and wonderful saturated shots of the sun-blasted Nevada desert, full of harsh yellow and gold. Night shots are equally clear, with dark blacks and grays contrasted with the bright neon of Las Vegas.
The film’s audio is presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital, with English and French tracks to choose from. Dialogue is well recorded and clear through the movie. There is nice punch to some of the music and sound effects, though the rear channels seem underused.
Automatic Trailers: Defendor, Gunless, The Road, Brothers
Behind the Wheel of Dolan’s Cadillac (24:01): Featurette about the making of the film, the awesomeness of the cast and crew, etcetera.
B-Roll Footage (19:39): This is exactly what it claims to be, nothing more, nothing less. It is nineteen and a half minutes of un-narrated, raw b-roll footage from several of the movie’s scenes.
Dolan’s Cadillac is an occasionally effective revenge thriller that tries too hard to be quirky and arty and as a result, too often falls flat. For Stephen King completionists and fans of Slater or Bentley, it’s probably worth a purchase (test yourself: do you own a copy of Maximum Overdrive, Pet Sematary, or anything with the words “children” and “corn” in the title? If the answer is yes, you might as well pick up Dolan’s Cadillac, because as flawed as it is, it is The Virgin Spring next to those wrecks). As for the rest of you, considering the dreck lining the video shelves these days, this is probably worth a rental.