Dolan's Cadillac is a basic thriller that thrives on some primal emotions and broad strokes in the storytelling. Broad strokes could mean that it's not so good - there's no nuance or subtlety to the filmmaking - or it could be good, if the filmmakers commit and get all they can out of it. The first two thirds (or, I'll be generous, first half) of the movie is boiler-plate set-up for a revenge story, with a couple of details in the villain's whole bag that makes him so rotten that you can't help but want to see his comeuppance. But in the last section of the movie... well, spoilers ahead I guess(?)
Set-up: two school-teachers are married to one another - Wes Bentley and Emmanuelle Vaugier - and are trying for a baby and, uh-oh, one day Vaugier happens upon Mr. Dolan (Christian Slater, in case the DVD cover won't make it clear) who is looking over his wares (women in a van, some already dead from just being in a dark place with no food, etc) and shoots the people selling them to him (hey, don't wanna mess up the merchandise, right). Vaugier just barely gets away but leaves her cell phone behind. Cut to some scenes later, a dead body is left in the couple's bed to send a message. And another couple of scenes later from that - following a 'Oh, is she now pregnant?' - she's blown up in a car.
|No, it's not Pet Sematary though, she only shows up twice.|
So, in short: gangster kills a regular guy's wife, he goes desperate and depressed more and more with each passing day, gets a 44 magnum (hey, Dirty Harry had one, right - this even comes up in the gun shop, in a moment of amusement, followed by his wife's corpse telling him to get it in illusion form) and pursues him to incredible lengths. How incredible? Try becoming a road-worker just to get access to a road when no one's looking... hey, it IS called Dolan's CADILLAC, after all.
This was a direct-to-DVD release, and I wasn't sure what to expect. Why did I even buy this to begin with at the time? Christian Slater, maybe. Wes Bentley? It was during his career lull (it's picked up a little in recent years thanks to small but notable roles in Hunger Games & Interstellar, remember him in those). Maybe it was the 'Based on a Stephen King' story. Hmm... but there have been many, many movies based on King stories, and some of them, frankly, stink. God forbid you go near a couple of those direct-to-TV series. So with expectations that were just a notch above "Alright, let's get this over with", I was pleasantly surprised to find a half-competent-half-super-darkly-funny revenge thriller.
Wait, funny? Why, yes, indeed. The key here really is Slater. He plays Dolan as a guy who just does not give a shit, and loves being, well, is evil the word(?) It is to the point where Robinson (Bentley) talks in narration about Dolan with words that, I can't shit you about this, are basically lifted from those of Randall Flagg in The Stand. Having recently read The Stand I found this amusing, but also rather odd; did King know the filmmakers were going to do that? Has he seen the movie? I imagine he gets around to watching them all at least at some point (that's the deal with his $1 deals with indie filmmakers), and not just the character description but his setting - a Las Vegas hotel where he has the best view of the city (as Flagg did) and goes about just not giving a fuck... well, who knows.
But the point is, the movie has some balls that really come to fruition once Robinson gets his plan underway. Oddly enough, from what the DVD special features tell me, the story has an inspiration from Poe, in a story he did where a man trapped his adversary behind a wall. This has a similar climax, and what is so impressive is how prolonged it is, how long it takes in this final battle of... it's not really brute force (though at one point guns get drawn and fired, it's brief), however, Dolan's Cadillac becomes about what the other expects and wants from the other. How much can the audience take seeing the villain beg? A lot, as it turns out, especially when it comes from Christian Slater.
Again, Slater is going into such over-drive with this character; a cursing, smart son of a bitch. There is a moment, ever so brief, where you see the character have almost a conscience. Or, if not that, some kind of pause, when he sees the next big step in his trafficking that may involve children. Would it change Robinson's point of view about doing what needs to be done with the Cadillac in a hole in the ground? Does it matter? What really matters is how much this filmmaker likes making this desert setting in Nevada like a blazing, red-orange fire of hell (not to a Tony Scott extent, but close), and seeing how Bentley and Slater face off, shouting at one another through what is essentially a big, bullet-shielding tomb for the antagonist, is thrilling, exciting, and charged with the sense that anything, for this final half hour or so, is possible.
Bentley, I should mention, is good here too, though he's mostly stoic through the first part of the movie. When he has to get emotional - which is, to be blunt, most of the picture - he does much better. It's not exactly an acting battle between the two stars, as they both pull their weight and make it enjoyable. There are the elements to the story you have to take with a grain of salt (how would no one else hear them in this final section, even during this weekend where supposedly few are around), and the section with Robinson and his wife is the most conventional and kind of cliched (like, we get it, he's about to find out he's a da-Nope, boom).
All in all, Dolan's Cadillac does its work as a nasty, brutal little B-movie that could have got a decent release; if not in major theaters, surely on some indie level. It digs into the inner-darknesses of the hero and the villain, though more-so the former, to show what lays bare when stripped to the core of desperation, rage and horror.