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Dolan’s Cadillac

Year: 2009
Production Co: Mind's Eye Entertainment
Director: Jeff Beesley
Writer: Richard Dooling/Stephen King
Cast: Christian Slater, Wes Bentley, Emmanuelle Vaugier

Like boring church services or visits to relatives you don’t like, it’s when something interesting happens that you finally think it’s much better than it really is.

I was haunted by that knowledge throughout watching this film because – as a Stephen King adaptation – I expected the usual clag. Particularly because it was based on one of King’s short stories, the territory where most screenwriters really flail while they try to find stuff to talk about that’s relevant to the theme.

So in really enjoying it, I’m still wondering if it was just the best of a bad bunch seeming much better than it really was. I still don’t think so – Richard Dooling’s script never feels forced or irrelevant to King’s essential plot, and unknown director Jeff Beesley not only shoots extremely well, he gives the proceedings enough directorial flourishes to make the film his own.

Mild mannered teacher Robinson (Bentley, who went absolutely nowhere after American Beauty) and his teacher wife get on the wrong side of human trafficker Dolan (Slater). While out horseriding, she witnesses Dolan’s goons lock a group of his human cargo in the back of a van to suffocate after a delivery gone wrong.

Despite being marked for death she agrees to testify against Dolan, but he’s high up enough to get to them even while the FBI has them holed up in a safe house, cutting short the couple’s dreams of their impending family by killing her in a car bomb.

Known only by his last name, Robinson is aware enough of Dolan’s regular movements to hatch the terrible plan from King’s story. He gets work on a road gang, which gives him access to the equipment to set up his own sting. One holiday weekend he digs a hidden hole in the highway, letting Dolan’s car through, blocking the road off and going down to meet his quarry, by now trapped at the bottom of a pit.

In another strong turn by the film, the pivotal sequences where Dolan tries to bargain for his life but Robinson slowly extracts his revenge takes about 20 minutes – plenty of time to run out of steam. But every minute of it is tense and emotional.

And it’s ironic that the film was so good as the casting could have been improved. As the stone-faced hero not much is asked of Bentley, who spends the whole film frowning. Slater’s is a much better role, and he almost has the charisma and presence to pull it off, but an older, scarier actor like Nicholson or Pacino would have filled the part better.

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