Misery (Rob Reiner, 1990, USA)

Misery, one of the most critically lauded and financially successful Stephen King adaptations, was the second round of adapting King for director Rob Reiner. Feeling the work deeply personal to him, King only accepted an adaptation if Reiner's name would be on the credits (he thought the director's Stand By Me was the best adaptation of his work up to that point). Originally intended for Butch Cassidy director George Roy Hill, the script went through multiple rewrites before Rob Reiner came on board to direct William Goldman's script. The casting process was even more labored, with a "who's who" of Hollywood acting royalty rejecting the role of bedridden author Paul Sheldon before James Caan - at a slump in his acting career - decided to take the role.

Misery is remarkably faithful to King's novel but manages to convert the interiority of that book to a Hitchcockian thriller while giving the story room to breathe with the addition of Lauren Bacall as Paul's literary agent, and Richard Farnsworth as the local sheriff. Kathy Bates was of course a revelation and rightfully won Best Actress for her portrayal of Annie Wilkes, but Caan's performance as Paul Sheldon also carries weight. Goldman's adaptation notably made some changes to King's original story - particularly with the hobbling scene - that were for the best.

Reiner's film arguably inaugurated the "high brow" phase of the King cinematic adaptation cycle, with several Castle Rock productions throughout the 90s garnering critical accolades (ShawshankDolores Claiborne). It still stands as one of the best King adaptations, and a consummate example of 90s commercial cinema. Reiner regrettably would take a downward turn starting with 1994's North, from which his directorial career would never truly recover. This and Stand By Me stand as his greatest works, and some of the best King ever put to screen.



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