Doubt (2008)

DVD Cover (Miramax)
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Overall Rating 75%
Overall Rating
Ranked #867
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Genres: Drama Period Film

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Meryl Streep
Meryl Streep
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Amy Adams
Amy Adams
Viola Davis
Viola Davis
Alice Drummond
Alice Drummond
Review by bluemeanie
Added: December 30, 2008
When it comes to a cinematic 'permanent record', John Patrick Shanley probably doesn't instill tons of confidence on the first perusal of his track record. This is the same guy who wrote and directed "Joe Versus the Volcano", one of the most confusing and critically loathed films of the 1990's - the same man who also penned the screenplay for two Frank Marshall films, "Alive" and "Congo". So, you see, his name is not normally attached to films that would ever be considered for awards potential... until now. The play version of "Doubt" took Broadway by storm in 2005 and won Shanley the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, bringing about this film adaptation. It might wind up being his greatest achievement, but even if he turns out to be a one-hit wonder, he has left up with a riveting piece of drama, translated wonderfully to screen by the man himself. "Doubt" is one of those films you have to see to understand because I cannot adequately describe to you what the film is about; the picture is more about a feeling than an idea. I can't explain how amazing the performances are - you have to see them and appreciate them yourself. This motion picture was easily the greatest cinematic achievement of the year.

The action here takes place at St. Nicholas School in New York City, a parochial school headed by Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep), a traditional hard-nosed nun who hates ball point pens and loves exercising her authority over everyone. Amy Adams co-stars as Sister James, an idealistic young nun who exercises compassion and love over hardness and cruelty. One day, Sister James becomes suspicious when Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) calls the schools first African-American student to the rectory for a private talk. She explains what happened to Sister Aloysius, also noting that she smelled alcohol on the boys breath when he returned. Though nothing is expressly spoken, we can see by Sister Aloysius' reaction that she suspects something improper. When she and Sister James confront Father Flynn, he denies everything and comes up with an excuse that would work on a normal person. But Sister Aloysius never relents and makes it her personal mission to see Father Flynn removed from the school. Sister James can't seem to make up her mind as to whether or not she believes Father Flynn could be capable of something like that. The film is basically a power play between Streep and Hoffman as they do battle with the perceptions they have offered to the other.

What makes this film work so well is that nothing is black and white. You only once here Meryl Streep refer to Father Flynn's relationship with the boy as 'inappropriate' and she only goes so far as to suggest he might have 'made advances'. The worst 'molest' is never brought up, nor is the word 'pedophile'. In the Catholic Church, there is a protocol and there is a vernacular that exist inside themselves and to cross outside those lines can be very tricky indeed. But there is also some 'doubt' as to whether Sister Aloysius really believes in Father Flynn's corruption with such certainty. Is she simply taking out her dislike for the man in other areas? Is she seeking his ruin because of the way he takes his tea and the way he keeps his fingernails long? The character of Sister Aloysius is certainly not above these kinds of actions, as we find out. The ending of the film can be interpreted in a number of different ways, but I found the meaning rather straightforward. It becomes pretty obvious, by that point, that one character is right and the other is wrong and that justice has been served. When Meryl Streep utters that last line to Sister James, it isn't so much a confession as a declaration. It shouldn't make us second guess or question anything else that has happened, because it is oddly unrelated to those matters and more in relation to the approach she had to take to arrive at the truth.

The film is also helped by the most incredible ensemble cast of the year. I can't imagine these words being delivered any better than they are here. Meryl Streep is insanely good here, her best performance in years, as Sister Aloysius. Her mannerisms - a grunt here and a pause here and an eyebrow raises there - are tailored for maximum potency and you can really appreciate her talents on full display throughout. The audience was literally cheering for her through most of the film. And it was very nice to see her go toe-to-toe with Philip Seymour Hoffman who is just fantastic as Father Flynn. The two of them create more than their share of fireworks, especially in that powerful final scene. Amy Adams is perfectly cast as the naive young nun who wants to see the good in people but gets a crash course in the dark side of human nature. And, Viola Davis will surely find a much deserved Academy Award nomination for her one-scene as the mother of the boy in question. It's definitely written to be a scene stealer and Davis is breathtaking in a role that people will remember for years to come - it's just that good. These four actors make up one of the best casts of the year and they all deliver Shanley's words with such perfection and such finesse. Awards season will likely shine on each of them.

All of that said, I have had very little time to devote to the technical merits of the film. The cinematography of Roger Deakins is pitch-perfect, using sharp angles to exploit the mood of the picture, simple and elegant shots that don't take attention away from the story. I just loved the opening sequence and how plainly it was shot. The original score from Howard Shore is dark and building and adds so much throughout the picture, kind of like a storm building. "Doubt" just has so much going for it, it's difficult to mention it all in one review. It was like watching a master class on acting and that was probably because the playwright was allowed to direct the film incarnation. John Patrick Shanley has surely redeemed himself in the eyes of most for "Joe Versus the Volcano". He has taken his Pulitzer Prize winning play and turned it into what I hope will become an Oscar winning motion picture. Meryl Streep should easily win for Best Actress, Philip Seymour Hoffman a nomination for Best Supporting Actor, Amy Adams a possible nod for Best Supporting Actress and Viola Davis a definite win for Best Supporting Actress. Throw in an original score, cinematography, adapted screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture nomination and you easily have the best film of 2008, without a 'doubt'.

Tristan #1: Tristan - added 12/30/2008, 03:37 PM
I hadn't even found out about this one until just a few weeks ago. I can't wait to see it. Hoffman is, well, pretty much the finest actor working today, so I don't expect to be disappointed.
waxtadpole3657 #2: waxtadpole3657 - added 01/02/2009, 12:52 AM
I CANNOT wait to see this. I absolutely adore Amy Adams, Philip Seymour Hoffman is amazing, and Meryl Streep is Meryl Streep. I'm probably gonna catch this and Ben Button next week.
grain of sand #3: grain of sand - added 01/08/2009, 04:57 AM
Superb acting on all sides, such an engaging story.. You really do not know what to think the whole time.
Loved it, 10/10
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