Doubt is one of those movies that comes along every now and then where the acting trumps all else. Indeed, the characters and situations in the movie help to elevate it beyond its rather simple premise and motionless setting (Doubt is based on a play). Rarely are movies so effective at engaging the audience’s attention with deep themes and important messages, and even more rare does any of this NOT seem forced. Definitely one of the best movies of 2008, Doubt is a well constructed and thought through movie, brilliant in its successes and its flaws.

Synopsis: Doubt gives an insightful look into a New York City catholic school and the life therein. The movie is set in the 1960’s against the backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement. Sister Beauvier is a feared, strict, and very conservative principal of the school, and answers only to Father Flynn, who is a well-loved and laid back priest. The conflicting personalities cause tension between them, but they are forced to tolerate each other due to formalities and their devotion to God. Sister James is the youngest nun at the school, at the mercy of Sister Beauvier because she is not as strict and is inexperienced. When a black student starts attending the school, Sister James notices a curious relationship forming between Father Flynn and the boy. Conflicted in her allegiance to Father Flynn and her beliefs in God, she tells Sister Beauvier about the situation. Sister Beauvier, eager to find fault in Flynn confronts him about the situation. What results is a battle of wits and beliefs, where the audience discovers the truth along with the characters.

Acting: Acting is strong in this movie despite only three major roles. Maryl Streep (Mamma Mia!) is amazing as Sister Beauvier. She shows excellent range by taking this role, as a very serious and very frightening person who’s commitment to God above all else is not questioned for a minute.  Phillip Seymore Hoffman (Mission Impossible 3) also does a good job, although I would say he is out-shined by Streep. His laid-back-while-aggressive personality is a good fit, even if it is difficult to believe the sincerity of his character at times. Amy Adams (Catch Me If You Can) plays sister James. Her shy mannerisms and youthful energy make her character very believable, especially in contrast to Streep’s. (23/25)

Script/Plot: Like the play on which it is based, the script focuses mainly on the interactions between a few characters, which can be good and bad. This is great because it adds to the dramatic impact of the film. Frequently writers tend to expose the audience to more than the characters of the film are aware at any given time. This is difficult to accomplish in a theater setting, and I really am glad that nothing was given away in this movie too early. It helps to build dramatic tension and it is actually important seeing that the title of this movie is Doubt, which helps create the theme of accusation vs. reality. Adapting a film from a movie can be a disadvantage because the plot is limited to development through dialog. This can stagnate a movie and make it too complicated with too many characters. Fortunately, Doubt remains fluid and does not feel bogged down by excess dialog. (22/25)

Direction: Director John Patrick Stanley (Joe Versus the Volcano) did a great job directing this movie, especially considering this is only the 2nd film he has directed. It is interesting the way that Stanley uses hallways and horizontal lines to create a frame for his characters and their actions. Even more interesting is when the dramatic tension picks up, Stanley abandons this alignment, using skewed angles, to show how the frame has now broken. In a sense he is telling the audience that this is reality, and everything is not perfect. I also applaud his use of dull colors outside contrasting to bright colors inside that somehow don’t seem so bright and distracting. This adds to the tone of the film. (24/25)

Music/Editing/X-Factor: Although almost perfect in regards to acting and direction, this film does have some flaws that I believe take substance away from its “X-Factor”. First is the ending. I would call it unsatisfactory to most audience members and rather abrupt. However, because the movie does not end perfectly, the film is proving again that this is reality and not everything will work out how you want it to, no matter the righteousness behind your cause. Second, because it is based on a play, the film lacks scope. What I mean is that the themes and topics brought about by the movie are limited to the movie’s setting, and although many of its messages are very important, the film does nothing to expand upon what happens. There is only a small connection to the civil rights movement and the movie makes no mention of events taking place outside of the school to put things into perspective.(20/25)

The Verdict:

What Kept Me Watching It: Great acting, great drama, and a script that engages the audience with important themes and questions worth asking.

What Killed It: The end might be a let down and the themes introduced are not applied to the bigger picture.

Summary: A small scale battle between well-played characters that you can’t help but find yourself drawn into.

Final Rating: (89/100) B+