Doubt


Directed by: John Patrick Shanley
Written by:John Patrick Shanley
Starring: Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Viola Davis, Joseph Foster, Mike Roukis
Released: January 15, 2009
Grade: A-

"Doubt is a bond as powerful as certainty." These words are uttered by Father Brendan Flynn (Hoffman) during one of his weekly’s sermons. He speaks to those who doubt their ability, their judgement or even their own faith. Father Flynn’s intent is to comfort his parishioners. They should not feel alone when they experience doubt. It is a natural human condition and the best medicine is to confide in the people we trust most.

Fathers Flynn’s sermon sets the stage for this aptly titled film. The man behind it all is John Patrick Shanley, the Academy Award winning writer of Moonstruck. It started out as a play which debuted in New York in 2004. It went on to win four Tony Awards in 2005 and has since been performed around the globe (including here in Australia).

The story has attracted the attention of some powerful people in Hollywood and it comes as no surprise to see it adapted into a movie. It features two of the finest actors in Hollywood – Philip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep. Instead of choosing a more high-profile director, the studio has taken a gamble and allowed Shanley to both write and direct this cinematic adaptation. His only previous credit was the less than memorable Joe Versus The Volcano in 1990.

For the most part, those behind the production have come through with the goods. This is a quality drama with some outstanding performances. Several cast members are in line for Academy Award nominations when they are revealed next week.

The film is set in 1964 within a small Catholic school in New York. Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Streep) is the school’s headmasters and she rules with an iron fist. All the students are afraid of her and she is quick to punish any minor indiscretion. Father Flynn doesn’t quite see eye to eye with Sister Aloysius. He sees that the times are changing and believes the Catholic Church present a more welcoming image. Kids shouldn’t have to live in fear in of them.

These two people are about to face off. One of the young teachers, Sister James (Adams) has become a little concerned about Father Flynn’s relationship with a boy named Donald Miller (Foster). She noted that when Donald returned to class after meeting with Father Flynn, he seemed troubled. She could also smell alcohol on his breath. She reported to the matter to Sister Aloysius who immediately jumps to the conclusion that something is amiss.

Has Sister Aloysius been too hasty with her judgement? Is she wrong to trust her gut instinct, especially given the gravity of the situation? Father Flynn provides an explanation for the events but can he be trusted? With little physical evidence to go on, Sister Aloysius does her utmost to get Father Flynn to confess. Who is right and who is wrong?

The only issue I have with the film is that there are a few unnecessary subplots and characters. We are introduced to some of the students at the start but nothing seems to come of them. Maybe they’re meant to be red herrings. It still bugged me though.

There’s a lot of dialogue in this film and the best parts are the confrontations between Hoffman and Streep. They do exactly what the screenplay asks of them – they create doubt in the mind of the audience. If you see this film with friends, you might enjoy comparing thoughts afterwards. Who did you believe?