Cast: Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Viola Davis, and Joseph Foster II
Director/Writer: John Patrick Shanley
Production Company: Scott Rudin Productions
Distributor: Miramax Films
Length: 104 minutes
Doubt is a powerful film that raises questions about human nature without providing clear answers. The film, based on the Tony and Pulitzer Prize winning play by the same name, is a gripping story about the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church in 1960s
America. This is a thought provoking film with stellar performances.
Father Brendan Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is the new Priest at St. Nicholas parish in Bronx, New York. Father Flynn promotes new and radical ideas on how to relate to the children at the parish’s school. He feels the children should be treated with love and understanding instead of the current model of strict obedience enforced by the school’s Principle Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep). The children live in constant fear of Sister Aloysius who is nicknamed Dragon Lady by Father Flynn.
Sister James (Amy Adams) is the new 8th grade History teacher. She is a sweet and naïve young nun who is quickly taken under the protective wing of Sister Aloysius. One of Sister James’ students is Donald Muller (Joseph Foster II) the first African American student at the school. Donald is seen by Sister James receiving special attention from Father Flynn. This attention sparks suspicion in Sister James who quickly confides with Sister Aloysius.
Their suspicions come to head when Donald returns to Sister James’ class smelling like alcohol after being called to the rectory for a private meeting with Father Flynn. This is the opportunity that Sister Aloysius has been looking for to remove Father Flynn from her school, but will she be able to overcome the shadows of doubt that surrounds her suspicions?
Doubt contains the best performances I have seen in a long time. Meryl Streep completely embodies her character. Her stark, makeup-less face, and red-rimmed eyes are captivating. Hoffman brings a comfortable joyful quality to his character that evokes sympathy when he is accused of evil crimes. The climatic confrontation between Streep and Hoffman is breathtaking. The power and righteousness they both give to their opposing sides is spell-bounding.
Amy Adams also delivers a wonderful performance. In so many of her films she plays over the top characters with sickening sweetness. In this film she is still naive and sweet, but she pulls back. She expounds a noticeable reserve and intelligence which I find refreshing. Her strength when confronting Streep about her doubts concerning the child abuse accusations will take some people by surprise.
Another great performance comes from Viola Davis who plays Donald Muller’s mother. She goes toe-to-toe with Streep in a powerful argument over Donald’s welfare. Her character is stuck between fear of her abusive husband and protecting her child. Her performance is real and natural.
On the surface the screenplay for Doubt can be seen as just a story about one of the thousands of child abuse cases involving the Catholic Church, but it is not. The story encompasses several points that are interwoven beautifully. The story explores the battle of the sexes, the negative effects of gossip, the proper relationships between children and adults, the hardships of change, and the consequences of human nature.
The writer did not take his audience’s intelligence for granted. The script keeps the viewer’s mind moving throughout the film. The writer let the audience draw their own conclusions instead of serving it up on a silver platter which is refreshing.
I highly recommend this film. Every cast member delivers powerful memorable performances. The story encompasses several topics and keeps the audiences’ attention. There is no doubt that this is a must see film.