Movie Review
Doubt poster
By Craig Younkin     Published January 3, 2009
US Release: December 12, 2008

Directed by: John Patrick Shanley
Starring: Amy Adams , Meryl Streep , Philip Seymour Hoffman , Viola Davis

PG-13 for thematic material.

Domestic Box Office: $33,422,556
There is so much being addressed, shown, and not being shown here that it’s impossible not to find it compelling.
For anyone who doesn’t already know, the play of John Patrick Shanley’s “Doubt” is not just about whether the man in question did or didn’t do it, it offers a whole range of questions about the concepts of morality and decency and it’s good to know that nothing has been lost in the transfer from stage to screen. And it’s even better to know that it’s gained more. A lot’s been made of the fact that the film actually shows the kids and it’s a very good approach for no other reason than that it conveys their dependability on the adults they are told they can trust. Another solid addition is the cast, which offer four first rate performances.

The finest is by Meryl Streep, playing Sister Aloysius, the principal of a Bronx catholic school in 1964. She spends her days making sure everything is running in tip-top shape. These kids may turn out to be bad apples but she refuses to let it happen on her watch. When one of her teachers, Sister James (Amy Adams), comes to her with the news that one of her students was called to see Father Flynn (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and came back with alcohol on his breath, she becomes immediately suspicious and, with very little proof except her own stubborn certainty, begins her own inquisition.

Shanley’s story is mired in the unseen but it’s the rich details of Aloysius and Flynn that give it flavor. Aloysius is hard-edged and old-hat, walking from class to class dispensing strict discipline on everyone she deems deserving. She is so set in her ways that she’ll even bitch about ball-point pens. The world is becoming more evil in her eyes, but she will not allow any of it through her doors. Flynn is an opposite. He wants to be a progressive part of the community and a sympathetic, friendly ear. He’ll coach and give advice to the boys during basketball practice, sit and talk with them about girls. He’s also willing to drink a beer and joke around with other priests. The contrast between these two people is fascinating and once Shanley throws the elephant in the room, we wonder not just about Flynn but also about whether Aloysius’ personal opinions of him are forcing her decision. And so many other questions arise, like can compassion still exist in an age of uncertainty and can doing something immoral to prove another’s wrong be considered righteous. The confrontations get more and more riveting and intense.

More so cause these actors fit their roles perfectly, especially Meryl Streep who owns the role of Aloysius as soon as she steps on screen. She is at times scary-funny and at others uncomfortably morose, showing a cold, iron-fisted, demanding antagonist above the surface and a woman who seems to be hiding so many miseries and demons below it. It’s an outstanding performance. And Hoffman holds himself out as a man of decency, good-will, and compassion, leaving you guessing as to the evidence against him more and more. Adams is a great and very needed third player. Appearing naïve and simple, Adams in turn also brings empathy and moral consciousness to her role, becoming the movie’s one true hero. And Viola Davis, playing the boy’s mother, only has one scene but as a woman who knows a very controversial thing about her son and is clueless as to how to protect him, she is powerful and shocking.

Shanley doesn’t skimp out on symbolism, whether it be religious or something as natural as a rain storm or the wind. His direction is also perfect, adding a cold and uncertain air to many of the scenes while creating a warmth during scenes in church (more symbolism?). Racial and gender issues, regarding the power slide between priests and nuns, also come into play. “Doubt” is set mainly in the catholic school but to say that limits it is an understatement. There is so much being addressed, shown, and not being shown here that it’s impossible not to find it compelling.
Craig's Grade: B+
Craig's Overall Grading: 340 graded movies
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