Written by Films

Doubt

Doubt is another “Oscar” film adapted and directed from his own play by John Patrick Shanley. And up front, it’s fair to say that it feels very much like a stageplay adapted to film. It’s claustrophobic and has powerful set pieces that scream “play” at you.
Meryl Streep is a strict nun who’s principal of a Catholic school in 60s New York (I’ll be honest – I had to look up whether it was New York, Boston, or somewhere else on the north eastern US seaboard. It wasn’t immediately clear to me). She begins to suspect that Philip Seymour Hoffman’s priest might be behaving inappropriately with one of the boys.
Given the recent history of the Catholic church in the US, and the number of awful cases of priests who were indeed behaving like that, you might think that either this piece is about the unmasking of such a priest, or a role-reversal film – perhaps he’s the priest who’s not stepping out of line.
Because we follow the action from Sister Beauvier’s point of view, we’re not sure. And that’s really the point of the piece.
There are some nicely observed sections of the film. Streep’s character is feared by all who come before her. She knows when kids are misbehaving and strolls around smacking kids and dishing out punishment without hesitation. She reminds me of a teacher at my primary school (not a nun) who managed to maintain a similar fearful hold over all who faced her.
And the sections where the boys act as altar servers also reminded me of my own experiences. They even dressed the same as we did.
Everything is nicely observed and the performances throughout are excellent. I liked the development of Amy Adams’ Sister James who’s told to pin a framed picture of the Pope on her blackboard by Sister Beauvier. “But it’s the wrong Pope,” she complains. “He passed away.”
“You can use the refelection in the glass to see what the children are doing behind you when your back is turned,” she’s told. “They’ll think you’ve got eyes in the back of your head!”
Amy Adams is up for a best supporting actress role for her performance which is fine, but I’m much less sure about Viola Davis who’s in the same category. She has a couple of good scenes and that’s about her total contribution. Yes, they’re important and powerful scenes, but others who have less obvious “drama” are equally as good – if not better. With Penelope Cruz in Vicky Cristina Barcelona the only performance I’ve not seen in the category, I’d have to give it to Marisa Tomei for The Wrestler; a much deeper and more polished performance.
Overall though, it’s another good, if not great film.