Doubt Directed by: John Patrick Shanley Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Viola Davis Running Time: 95 minutes Rating: PG-13 Opens: Dec. 12th in Chicago at Landmark Century Cinema and AMC River East
Plot: Based on his own play, John Patrick Shanley writes and directs a film about a Bronx parish in the 1960's that faces inner turmoil when a respected priest's (Hoffman) good nature is questioned by two nuns (Streep and Adams).
Who’s It For? Those willing to experience a slowly paced, dramatic exploration into universal themes like leadership as told in a setting timely to the church's own problems in recent years.
Expectations: Very curious was the mixed reaction Doubt received when it first screened in New York. Where could this Oscar-baiting film have gone wrong? How could a chamber-film about religion with such an intriguing cast not be close to immaculate?
Philip Seymour Hoffman as Father Brendan Flynn: The actor's hefty figure and mysterious eyes help his believability of the role of the curious priest. However, the role is too accessible for Hoffman, who has already made a recent (Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, Charlie Wilson's War) award-friendly reputation of turning moments of anger into vulnerable emotional implosions. But considering this, his chemistry with Streep is remarkable, especially in the film's climactic shouting-royale. Score: 7
Meryl Streep as Sister Aloysius Beauvier: Streep plays the tough Irish nun with a sarcastic wit almost equally as cutting as her (Oscar nominated) character in The Devil Wears Prada. More distinctive than her humor is the character's strictness, which is shown as no different than any of the other aging and uptight nuns. Streep is a credible embodiment of the adamantly stern character, and has the authentic presence of that symbol of authority we're all afraid to cross. The true main character, the film's exploration of "doubt" revolves around her relationships with Sister James and Father Flynn. Score: 8
Amy Adams as Sister James: Adams continues her puppy-eyed innocence and sweet-heartedness as if her next choice in life after playing with fairy tale creatures in Enchanted was to become a nun. As the young sister whose progressive thoughts about education and children clash with those of her boss, Sister Aloysius, the talented actress misuses her role and turns it into what is ultimately fluff. Her character's optimism about the nature of human beings creates an "enchanting" naivety, which would produce an interesting performance were it not so easy for Adams to portray. Score: 6
Viola Davis as Mrs. Muller: This performance, in its less-than-ten-minute Oscar-friendly glory, will become quickly overrated. Davis is great at providing tangible grief, but the general impact of the desperate Mrs. Muller comes from her character's odd decision, and less from her actual portrayal. I'm afraid she'll have "Beatrice Straight in Network syndrome" - where the Academy over-hypes a talented portrayal and eats up the brief, teary-eyed performance. Score: 7
Talking: The purest component of Doubt is its clever dialogue. The script is a heavy balance of Father Flynn's light jokes and Sister Aloysius' razor-sharp sarcasm. However, the film's strongest talking moments are in Father Flynn's sermons, which explore and highlight the key ideas swirling around the four main characters. His opening line "what do we do when we're not sure?" is an incredibly effective introductory sentence that remains in the mind throughout the entire experience of Doubt. Score: 9
Sights: Similar to his work on the recent Revolutionary Road, cinematographer Roger Deakins focuses his characters in the center of the screen. Notably, the film is able to separate itself from its roots - it can be visually accepted as a film, and not just a play pretending to be one. Doubt does not have the stilted visual sense that has plagued previous play-adaptations. Score: 7
Sounds: The opening music sets an odd tone to the film that borders on optimistic. More accurate to the dominating strict atmosphere of the film are classic church hymns. Though their presence is essential to the setting of Doubt, the traditional church organ music adds a terrific sense of austerity and a heavy seriousness that emphasizes the film's dramatics. Score: 7
The film's effective script is reliant on performances that ultimately do not live up to its impressiveness. None of the three main characters truly step outside of themselves - their roles are distractingly convenient, regardless of their skilled emotional intensity.
As expected, Doubt is a quiet film that is straightforward only on the surface. It's a parable with endless themes and intriguing characters that only appear simple in the flesh. And thankfully, the film's "provocativeness" is restrained - Shanley's self-adapted screenplay prefers to be a film and not a finger-pointing related to recent "problems" within the church.
Doubt may not be the second coming of Oscar, but it is lingering and memorable like a good sermon.
Final Score: 7/10