"Doubt" features riveting performances, obvious direction

by Eric Melin on December 26, 2008

in Print Reviews

This is part two of an article that starts with a review of “Frost/Nixon.”

‘Tis the season for play adaptations, as the recent releases of “Doubt” and “Frost/Nixon” can attest to. Adapted from his own 2005 Tony-winning play, writer/director John Patrick Shanley’s “Doubt” is one of those movies that you come away from thinking mainly about the strength of the performances.

doubt meryl streep philip seymour hoffmanWhile Ron Howard’s camera does the heavy lifting for his actors, John Patrick Shanley (“Joe Versus the Volcano”) lets loose two Oscar-winning actors in a war-of-words deathmatch in his film version of “Doubt.” Meryl Streep finds not only the tightly-buttoned and unswerving righteousness of Sister Aloysius, but also a wickedly funny side that is probably unbeknownst to the nun, who serves as principal of a Catholic school in the Bronx. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Father Flynn, a priest who relieves any guilt he may be feeling in his sermons about a improper relationship he may or may not have with a young boy in his Parish.

The film’s central conceit is that moral certainty is a slippery slope, and what better place to play out this battle of wills than in the morally sanctified house of God? Amy Adams is caught in the middle of the two very persuasive personalities, and serves as a stand-in for the audience’s wishy-washyness.

doubt viola davis doubtShanley uses all kinds of visual clues to let us know what he wants us to think—a suspicious gesture viewed voyeuristically, a thunderstorm as a spiritual crisis, a stained glass window at a tilted angle—but the back and forth “did he/didn’t he” becomes less interesting as the movie wears on.

What fascinated me about “Doubt” were two peripheries: The blatant sexism of the 1960s Catholic church and the anguish of a terribly conflicted mother, played by Viola Davis. Aloysius’ silent mealtimes with her nuns are a far cry from the jovial meetings of the male priests, and Flynn is as offended at the charges she makes against him as he is that she has the audacity to make them at all. He hides behind the protection of the church’s male-dominated hierarchy, and Hoffman does an impressive job of showing the entitlement his character feels.

Davis, who is on the way to a surefire Oscar nomination, has one spellbinding scene where she deflects all of Aloysius’ high-ground judgments as matters that don’t concern her. The fact that she is willing to let go the very thing that has Streep’s single-minded nun so worked up is unfathomable to Aloysius.

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of Scene-Stealers.com and writes the Screen Stealers column for The Pitch. He’s President of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls and Ultimate Fakebook. He is also Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Katie January 13, 2009 at 3:10 am

I saw this movie tonight. It was very thought provoking but it left something to be desired. For one, I wish we got to go a little deeper as to why Sister Aloysius was so afraid. I wish that we had known more about Father Flynn’s past as well. But I suppose that was the point of the film.. to be filled with doubt… to have the desire for more information that would be helpful in forming an opinion on the matter… only to not receive it. That was frustrating but I think that’s what makes this film unique. It’s not meant as a morality tale and it didn’t spoonfeed us anything.. it made you think.

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2 Katie January 13, 2009 at 3:10 am

I saw this movie tonight. It was very thought provoking but it left something to be desired. For one, I wish we got to go a little deeper as to why Sister Aloysius was so afraid. I wish that we had known more about Father Flynn’s past as well. But I suppose that was the point of the film.. to be filled with doubt… to have the desire for more information that would be helpful in forming an opinion on the matter… only to not receive it. That was frustrating but I think that’s what makes this film unique. It’s not meant as a morality tale and it didn’t spoonfeed us anything.. it made you think.

Reply

3 karl l January 30, 2009 at 12:01 am

Streep is remarkable.

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4 karl l January 30, 2009 at 12:01 am

Streep is remarkable.

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5 Clark March 2, 2009 at 8:56 am

I loved Doubt!
As a play-turned-into-movie, it had to have good performances and good dialogues – and it has!
I was absolutely awstruck by Davis. She has only ONE scene (and opposite to Meryl Streep) and she puts on a SHOW!

Reply

6 Clark March 2, 2009 at 8:56 am

I loved Doubt!
As a play-turned-into-movie, it had to have good performances and good dialogues – and it has!
I was absolutely awstruck by Davis. She has only ONE scene (and opposite to Meryl Streep) and she puts on a SHOW!

Reply

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