Doubt is quite possibly the best movie I’ve seen this year. It’s a fantastic adaptation of a hit play with a cast to die for. It’s also a stunning portrayal of a religious institution at a time of great upheaval, both internally and externally.
Based loosely upon director and writer John Patrick Shanley’s childhood at convent school in the Bronx (Sister James is based on one of his teachers), it skillfully evokes the time in a variety of skilled and often subtle ways. We can feel that is a different world than the one we currently live in, a time when the church had a great deal of influence. In hindsight we can see the darkness sitting just beyond the edge of the shot, and Shanley manages to avoid over-egging the pudding.
The film is surprisingly even-handed (given the subject matter) in its handling of the Catholic Church. It recognises the Church as an outdated institution, but Shanley also appreciates the great role they played in providing education to the middle- and working-class inhabitants of the Bronx and other areas. None of the characters are crude representations of pious figures, each achieving the same detail as a real, and flawed, individual.
Shanley also gets a phenomenal amount of credit for revelling in the ambiguity. A lot of movies spoon-feed their audience, or patronise them. There’s generally an easy answer to be found – even in prestige drama. Shanley avoids offering a neat little coda, and instead lets the audience resolve their own doubts. On the special features Shanley talks about the same people going to see Doubt and coming out as though they’d seen two completely different plays, and it’s an experience I’m pleased to say the movie had. My family and I reached a different conclusion this weekend, as my girlfriend and I did when we saw it in the cinema. Perhaps it is this ambiguity that cost the picture the Best Picture nomination, as the Academy does like neat resolutions at the end of their films. Real life doesn’t have such resolutions.
The cast is phenomenal – a fact attested to by the fact that all four major actors received an Academy Award nomination for their work. Voila Davis in particular earned an award for less than ten minutes of screentme. Meryl Streep is amazing – though she is never any less than amazing. Amy Adams is a growing star and one to watch in the coming years. I sense she has a long and very varied career ahead of her. Philip Seymour Hoffman continues to be a vastly under-rated actor, and he shows huge range here as the accused priest. It’s astonishing to watch.
All in all, fairly phenomenal. And I’m sure the movie will pop up in my end of year list. Which is something for a film released in February.
Doubt is directed by John Patrick Shanley (Joe Versus the Volcano) and stars Meryl Streep (Mamma Mia!, The Deer Hunter), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote, Charlie Wilson’s War), Amy Adams (Enchanted, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsoneon) and Viola Davis (State of Play, Nights in Rodanthe). It was released in the States on Christmas Day, but us Irish had to wait until 6th February to see it.
Filed under: Non-Review Reviews Tagged: | amy adams, catholic church, doubt, film, john patrick shanley, meryl streep, Movies, non-review review, philip seymour hoffman, play, review, sisters of charity, viola davis