Doubt * * * * 1/2
Director: John Patrick Shanley.
Screenplay: John Patrick Shanley.
Starring: Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Viola Davis, Alice Drummond, Audrie Neenan, Joseph Foster II, Paulie Litt.
John Patrick Shanley is probably better known for the 1987 film “Moonstruck” which garnered Cher a best actress Oscar and also one for himself in the screenplay department. He went on to direct “Joe Versus The Volcano” in 1990, to mixed results, but here he’s back to his native New York, doing what he does best and taking only his second stab at directing.
In a Bronx Catholic school in the 1960’s, stern and moralistic school principal Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep) suspects that gregarious priest Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) has shown an unnatural and indecent interest in one of the school’s alter boys. She is so certain of her suspicions but lacks the evidence to prove it, leading to a battle-of-wits between them.
There are, easily, three main reasons why I enjoyed this film so much and they are: the three actors involved. Amy Adams is one of the strongest young actresses around at present and Streep and Hoffman are two of my all-time favourites. I never tire of watching them and to see them go head-to-head, chewing up the screen with powerful roles, is dramatic gold as far as I’m concerned. Such choice material though, ultimately rests with Shanley. His writing, not only has the characters in doubt but the omission of integral plot developments cleverly leaves the audience with doubts also. Is Father Flynn guilty of such indecency? Or, is Sister Aloysius bitter and slanderous toward the outgoing priest in order to retain her hierarchy? It’s an intriguing confrontation, masterfully played out buy a relentless Streep and victimised Hoffman. Adams, meanwhile, is caught between the two in a wonderful show of innocence and hope. All three were Oscar nominated for their performances, and deservedly so. Viola Davis, as the alter boys struggling mother, also deserves mention with some strong displays of emotion. It’s a film of performances and everyone is up to the task. Roger Deakins is another deserving of praise, with his exquisite cinematography. As always, his use of the camera captures the mood beautifully with some simple but lush and quaint images.
Ambiguous and tantalising. Some may find the ambiguity frustrating but I found that it kept entirely in-touch with the theme of the film. That being, quite simply… doubt.