After a series of schlocky screen adaptations of thrillers by Steven King, director Rob Reiner comes to the rescue with a smashingly good interpretation of King's 1987 novel Misery. Best selling novelist Paul Sheldon (James Caan) cracks up his car during a Colorado blizzard and is found by Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), a nurse who lives alone in the wilderness. With both legs broken, Sheldon gives her permission to read his new work which is a departure from his series of historical romances. Annie is appalled by the foul language in the book. As his "number one fan," she orders him to resurrect Misery Chastain, the heroine who died in childbirth in his last book.
Kathy Bates gives a standout performance as this polite caretaker whose outward servility masks an inward rage and violence. With drugs and torture at her disposal, Annie becomes a malevolent muse who pushes Sheldon to the limits as he begins writing new chapters in the Misery saga. James Caan skillfully conveys the different emotions of the imprisoned writer as he experiences bafflement, fear, and then deep enmity toward this nutty nurse.
By emphasizing the battle of wills between these two rather than the easier route of bloody mayhem, director Reiner makes Misery into a convincing psychological thriller. Richard Farnsworth and Frances Sternhagen turn in fine performances in minor roles as the husband and wife who serve as sheriff and deputy in the small town where Annie picks up her supplies and reading fare.