Directed by John Patrick Shanley
Starring Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams
Heidi’s Illustrious Rating: 3
Word of Warning: Dialogue driven film, adapted from a play; may bore the young or those who prefer a faster paced movie.
I have no doubt Meryl Streep will win the Best Actress for her portrayal of Sister Aloysius Beauvier at the Golden Globes and Oscars this year. “Doubt” is a showcase of her impressive talent. However, though the performances by Streep, Adams and Hoffman are outstanding, the movie leaves the audience feeling somewhat uncertain, perhaps that is the intent, but for me it was slightly irritating.
“Doubt” was originally written for the stage by writer/director John Patrick Shanley. Shanley went on to direct the big screen version of his play and the results are haunting. Set in 1964, during a blustery winter in the Bronx, the cinematography is as bleak as life behind cloistered walls. An odd camera angle here and there, is the only hint of creativity in the otherwise austere portrayal of life at St. Nicholas Catholic School.
The story follows three main characters; a progressive priest named Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a battle-hardened, traditional principal, Sister Beauvier and a young, inexperienced nun named Sister James (Amy Adams). When Sister Beauvier begins to suspect Father Flynn as having an inappropriate relationship with the school’s first black student, Sister James is morally conflicted over who and what to believe.
While at first glance, it seems “Doubt” is about the priest scandals that have plagued the Catholic Church for years. However, in an interview printed in the Denver Post last year, writer John Patrick Shanley sets the record straight.
“I wasn’t at all interested in the church scandals when I wrote this play,” said Shanley. “What interested me was the moral certainty that people had at that time about all kinds of things. And it was so deep, they couldn’t see things that were right in front of them. That is a sporadically “” but huge “” recurring social phenomenon, that people in a society become invested with a belief in something, and no evidence before their eyes will controvert that belief. They will curse their own children rather than not believe the illusion they are all sharing. And that was the part of the church scandals that interested me.”
After educating myself on the writer’s intentions, the movie “Doubt” becomes more understandable and even more likable. Though it is highly dialogue driven, the movie never loses a certain captivating intensity; the passion created by what Shanley calls “moral certainty.” Sister Beauvier’s adamant belief in Father Flynn’s guilt guides her unwaveringly towards her goal of bringing him down.
I won’t give the plot away, but I do not think this movie will please everyone. The crowd at our theater was outwardly indignant about the ending, but it’s a movie that will no doubt inspired spirited conversations among friends and will perhaps provoke inward consideration of our own strongly held moral certainties.
***Shortened version appearing in the Berthoud Weekly Surveyor.