Misery (1990)
Misery (1990)

Genre: Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 47 min.

Release Date: November 30th, 1990 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Rob Reiner Actors: James Caan, Kathy Bates, Richard Farnsworth, Lauren Bacall, Frances Sternhagen, Graham Jarvis, Jerry Potter




aul Sheldon (James Caan) is in the “Misery Chastain” business – stuck continually writing about a popular book character he created. But in his most recent story, he’s finally killed her off (akin to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s disposal of Sherlock Holmes), hoping to start anew with something he really enjoys. During a trip to Colorado to flesh out his ideas, he loses control of his car in the snow and crashes, breaking his legs in multiple spots and injuring his arm.

He awakes two days later, just outside Silver Creek, to discover he’s being cared for by his “number one fan,” a female nurse named Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), who found him in the blizzard. She’s even named her pet pig after his novels. And as soon as the roads open, she’ll take him to the hospital… or so she promises. There’s something odd about her presence, her sudden temper, her professing of love, and her generally irrational behavior. Paul can immediately see her violent idiosyncrasies and realizes that the sooner he can leave, the better.

When Annie finally reads his latest book, “Misery’s Child,” in which the main character dies during childbirth, she becomes unhinged, furious at Sheldon’s betrayal of her favorite persona. Her mood swings become even more persistent and horrifying. Intent on having her captive author correct his mistakes, she coerces Paul to write a new novel – while imprisoned and recuperating – to bring back Misery and to dedicate the new book to Annie. While she serves as caretaker, critic, and editor, and his resurrection story begins to take shape, Paul sees his chances at escaping both steadily dwindling and becoming desperately necessary. “When are we going to develop a sense of trust?” the kidnapper demands of her victim.

The film wastes no time getting into the plot – before the opening credits are even finished, the wreck has occurred and Annie is digging Paul out of the ice. She’s immediately creepy, a little disturbing, and quick to reveal her stalker-like interest in his works. “I’m not a movie star type,” she comments, noting a momentary realization that her idolization will never be reciprocated. There is also an abundance of humor – inherent in thrillers when a character must outsmart an opponent without giving away any true intentions and also when plans inevitably fail before they succeed. And then, of course, there’s the infamous, spine-tingling sledgehammer scene.

Lauren Bacall makes an appearance as a literary agent and Richard Farnsworth is the witty, wizened local sheriff. Ultimately, however, the show belongs to only two people – one of those rare films capable of spending the entire running time focusing on the cat-and-mouse suspense between a superbly cinematic duo, without ever slowing down. Kathy Bates gives a bravura performance as the mostly psychotic, sometimes sweet-natured Annie – taking home the Oscar for Best Actress and earning it every step of the way. And Caan is utterly convincing as the prey for her ghastly motives, intelligent enough to cope with his situation while formulating a nerve-wracking trial-and-error solution. Praise must also go to director Rob Reiner (whose previous credits include mostly comedies, like “This Is Spinal Tap,” “The Princess Bride,” and “When Harry Met Sally…”) for creating a terrifying atmosphere and startling tension with little more than a single set, torturous yet intelligent mind games, and the thrill of pending escape, and to writer William Goldman for his shrewd adaptation of Stephen King’s popular novel.

– Mike Massie

  • 9/10