Dec 292008

It’s 1964, St. Nicholas in the Bronx. A vibrant, charismatic priest, Father Flynn, is trying to upend the school’s strict customs, which have long been fiercely guarded by Sister Aloysius Beauvier, the iron-gloved Principal who believes in the power of fear and discipline. The winds of political change are sweeping through the country, and, indeed, the school has just accepted its first black student, Donald Miller. But when Sister James, a hopeful innocent, shares with Sister Aloysius her suspicion that Father Flynn is paying too much personal attention to Donald, Sister Aloysius is galvanized to begin a crusade to both unearth the truth and expunge Flynn from the school. Now, without a shred of proof or evidence except her moral certainty, Sister Aloysius locks into a battle of wills with Father Flynn, a battle that threatens to tear apart the Church and school with devastating consequences.

Genres: Drama, Adaptation and Politics/Religion; Running Time: 1 hr. 44 min.; Release Date: December 12th, 2008 (limited); MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic material.

Starring: Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Viola Davis, Alice Drummond

Directed by: John Patrick Shanley

This is an excellent movie. While I never saw the play, I think the movie maintained the qualities of a play because of John Patrick Shanley. I felt pulled into the movie, not as a passive observer, but more like someone uncomfortably over-hearing conversations to which one should not be listening.

Hoffman pulls off one his top performances here (and think of cannon of work that comes from). He has such conviction as this priest, moments of tenderness and (possibly) righteous anger… and then those little moments, like when he suddenly asks Sister Aloysius (Streep) in the heat of their climactic argument “Have you never done wrong?” that suddenly really makes things interesting. This isn’t just bombast between two heavyweights like Hoffman and Streep, but a master’s class in subtlety, tone, the way a face looks when it tries to look controlled. This is a big performance for Streep as well, and she is perfect in the part. I am not a product of Catholic eduction, but from what I’ve heard, Streep must have some experience with it. Amy Adams has shown herself to be an excellent actress, and pulls off her part perfectly. Viola Davis has a very short part in the film, but it is critical to the story, and she teals her scene practically and goes head-to-head with Streep in one of those revelatory scenes that works on multiple levels.

Doubt will certainly be an Oscar contender, and it deserves to be there. It is an excellent drama, filmed and acted in a way that keeps the audience attention completely centered on the movie.

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