Monday, December 29, 2008

Doubt

Yesterday I saw Doubt, starring Meryl Streep and Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

It's a drama (with a hint of comedy) about a Catholic school in the Bronx, in 1964. Sister Aloysius (Streep) is the stereotypical "mean nun" who administers wicked punishments to the children and is quick to judge her colleagues. Father Flynn (Hoffman) is a kind, warm-spirited priest who pays special attention to Donald (Joseph Foster), who is the first black student admitted to the school.

After witnessing a few normal situations at the school (kids misbehaving in class, nuns breaking bread together in silence, etc.), the writer wastes no time in letting us know that suspicion looms over Father Flynn regarding his relationship with Donald.

Amy Adams, in a role tailor made for her expertise in playing innocence, is Sister James, a naive teacher who notices a behavioral change in Donald after he returns from a private visit with the father. She soon tells Sister Aloysius, who is immediately anxious to expose and expunge the certainly guilty priest.

From there the movie places its title into your reactions as an audience member. Is this miserable woman just making life difficult for a man because he is a man? Is this kind-hearted priest who has a natural rapport with his congregation and students capable of such unspeakable harm? Is Sister James too inexperienced to correctly read the signs of abuse in one of her students?

All of the doubts they weave into your mind will have you taking sides with yourself, or perhaps the person sitting next to you. But they won't definitely answer the questions, which is what makes the film good.

What also makes the film good are the performances. It's not shocking that Streep's accent is dead-on 60s New Yorker, and it's no surprise that Hoffman can be equally endearing and creepy, but the unexpected thrill is seeing the two battle it out on screen as if they were performing live theater. It's hard to take your eyes off of them.

Also great are supporting players Amy Adams as the sugar-sweet Sister James, and Viola Davis as the pained mother of young Donald. Both infuse their characters with mannerisms, expressions and speech patterns that perfectly illustrate their plight.

What makes the film bad is the ending. It betrays one of the characters they've crafted so brilliantly and makes no sense in the context of the resolution.

Shame it had to end that way.

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1 comment:

Aaron said...

Great review, Tassoula. I think i enjoyed the film as a whole less, but you were spot on about the performances.

I REALLY hope you and Michael discuss this on the next episode of Cinebanter, along with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button just because there are so many great discussions point in both films.