Year of Release: 1990
Director: Rob Reiner
Screenplay: William Goldman, based on the novel Misery by Stephen King
Starring: James Caan, Kathy Bates, Richard Farnsworth, Frances Sternhagen, Lauren Bacall
Running Time: 107 minutes
Genre: Thriller, horror
Paul Sheldon (Caan) is the writer of a best-selling series of historical romance novels featuring heroine Misery Chastain. However he is sick of the series and in his latest novel concludes the series by finally killing off Misery, so he can begin work on more "serious" literary fiction. However, driving through the mountain roads of Colorado on his way to deliver the manuscript he is badly injured in a serious car accident. Luckily he is saved by nurse Annie Wilkes (Bates) and taken to her remote farmhouse. Even better, Annie is his Number One Fan! However she is not happy about his new artistic direction, and she is even less happy when she reads the final Misery novel. Now Paul has to write one special Misery novel, just for her. Because when Annie gets upset, people get hurt. Very badly hurt.
This is a gripping thriller, based on a 1987 Stephen King novel. The novel was very personal to King, and he was reluctant to sell the film rights, although he was happy to let Rob Reiner make the film, because Reiner had made Stand By Me (1986), one of King's favourite adaptations of his work. The book was inspired partly due to the very negative reaction many of his fans had to King's non-horror fantasy novel The Eyes of the Dragon. King felt that the horror genre was imprisoning him, and he wanted to branch out. King was also in the grip of a serious drug addiction at the time he was writing the novel, and later claimed that the character of Annie Wilkes was a metaphor for drugs.
The film is about the "contract" between creators and their audience. The fans pay their money for what the creator produces, but in return they want the creator to keep on producing the material they like. However, what happens when the creator wants to do something different? When they do not want to produce what the fans demand. Of course there is no contract. You pay for the individual book, comic, film, whatever, and have no right to tell the creator what to do in the future. There are of course the people who would strongly disagree with this. The Annie Wilkes of the world who would say "Oh no, you're ours. You'll do what we say."
Essentially this is a two-hander between James Caan and Kathy Bates, both of whom turn in fantastic performances. In the unpredictable Annie Wilkes, who can turn from kindly, caring nurse to violent maniac in an instant, Kathy Bates creates one of the screen's greatest and most memorable monsters, and walks away with the entire film. James Caan is affecting as the tortured writer. Caan is a big, physically imposing actor, best known for tough guy roles such as Sonny Corleone in The Godfather and it's interesting to see him almost completely de-powered. Richard Fansworth and Frances Sternhagen provide comic relief, and a break from the claustrophobic tension in the farmhouse, as the kindly local Sheriff and his sarcastic wife.
The film mostly concerns itself with the psychological duel between Annie and Paul, however it does have one teeth-clenchingly shocking moment with the "hobbling" scene involving Annie, Paul's feet and a large sledgehammer.
Tense, exciting and sometimes very funny, surprisingly so, this is one of the best Stephen King adaptations, and a truly fantastic thriller.