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Doubt (2008)

A movie directed by John Patrick Shanley

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4 ½+ Stars: Powerful, Emotionally-Driven Performances will Make you "Doubt"...

  • Apr 13, 2009

Based on the award-winning play and adapted for the screen by John Patrick Shanley, who also directs this film, "DOUBT" is a riveting, powerful film full of raw emotional drama that registers as something truly worthy of praise. It has been made outstanding by the exceptional performances that would give you goose bumps and enough meat to talk about after the first viewing. It is just a film almost impossible to ignore with its superb direction, beautiful but simple cinematography--truly an awesome blend of solid storytelling and powerful performances. I was truly awed.

A year after the Kennedy assassination, in a Catholic church with a school in its grounds, Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a progressive priest with ideas that defy tradition. Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) is a traditional nun who is also the school's principal, who believes in protecting and preserving known rules and old-school beliefs. The two are meant for a battle of wills and on the sidelines is naïve sister James (Amy Adams). When Sister James brings her observations to Sister Aloysius about the things she had seen about a lone African-American student, Donald. The school principal is pushed to believe that Father Flynn may have an undesirable relationship with the young student, without the benefit of solid evidence. Flynn denies the charges that leads the elder nun to pursue an audience with Donald's mother (played by Viola Davis), leaving Sister James confused and the matter eating away at her conscience…

                 Philip Seymour Hoffman as Father Flynn and Amy Adams as Sister James in "Doubt."

                Meryl Streep as Sister Aloysius in "Doubt."

I know what you're thinking--who is right and who is wrong? Did Flynn really molest the boy? With the film's very strong Catholic overtone, the direction presents a very suffocating screenplay. Both Father Flynn and Sister Aloysius appear to have the best interests of the boy in mind, both characters are sympathetic and believable; even Sister James have her heart in the right place. I suppose if there are any bad guys in this film, it would be our own PERCEPTION. It sends us to a wild moody set piece that bring us to the uttermost places of uncertainty.

Catholic authority is also somewhat called into play as this church is obviously one divided by gender (as illustrated with the separate scenes of social intermingling at dinner). One may think that Aloysius has the motivation to grab power from Flynn, the script effectively represents the psychological dissertation between our two main characters. The film goes into the opposing viewpoints--things that need to be changed within the confines of the rectory and things that need preserving. It was a nice  touch to see Aloysius annoyed when Flynn wanted sugar in his tea. Both sides have a point, but it is difficult to take a side and nor does Shanley point an accusing finger. The dialogue is very strong and the material is well structured; the screenplay is very enthralling as it takes the viewer to behavioral actions that provokes our curiosity. Director Shanley also takes a look at the premise and methodically shows the larger picture, at the same time it kept on generating a strong uneasy feeling that can get under your skin. 

Amy Adams as Sister James in "Doubt."  Viola Davis as Mrs. Muller in "Doubt."

               Meryl Streep as Sister Aloysius and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Father Flynn in "Doubt."

The lingering suspicion is powerfully played to its fullest and I will be honest, it is driving me crazy. The excellently staged exchanges of dialogue between Streep and Hoffman are truly awe-inspiring. I have always loved both performers and this movie just justifies my reasons as to why. The more they bicker and argue the more the truth becomes cloudy. The two have good reason to protect the details from each other's eyes, and I have to commend the script by Shanley; he obviously chose the words carefully--with the sole purpose of confusing, provoking our senses and engaging the viewer in its sequences.

Aside from Hoffman and Streep's exchanges, there is also a very emotionally charged exchange with Mrs. Miller (Viola Davis), Donald's mother. That scene almost made my jaw drop as I was very moved with their conversation. Donald is a child with a huge problem--is Father Davis helping or is he taking advantage? Sister James doesn't think so after she had a conversation with Father Flynn in the garden. Amy James does feel a little too ditzy, and I guess that is just the way her character needed to be portrayed. The film is just a marvelous roller coaster of emotional exchanges and when you have such performers as Hoffman and Streep, you will have to prepare to be absolutely impressed.

"Doubt" has marvelous writing that fabulously challenges the viewer to question and well, "doubt" the film's resolution. Shanley made a wise move in not dissecting the truth, and express the insidiousness of rumors and gossip. It also makes a bold statement about faith, tradition and trust that sometimes we need to listen and restrain our potential for damaging perceptions; and Shanley amazingly does so without discrediting religion. "Doubt" is a powerful motion picture since I am certain that I will be pondering its final act long after the end credits stop rolling. Those who like their moral dramas with an absolute resolution may be a little disappointed, but for those who doesn't mind pondering what they've seen are in for a treat. I like films that leave me asking questions, it is a welcome departure from the usual Hollywood fare that spoon-feeds the answers.

Highly Recommended!! [4 ½+ Stars]

teaser poster Poster Streep and Hoffman Hoffman and Adams

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April 13, 2009
I'm still waiting to see this. Our theatre didn't get it until a week ago and because they waited so long they had a terrible showing and then it only played for about five days. Anyhow, great review. Is the Woo going to start reviewing more mainstream movies now?
April 13, 2009
That's too bad. I had to wait for the dvd because I don't really go to the theaters on a regular basis--only when there's something worth seeing in certain months. As for mainstream films, I like mixing it up; and ANYTHING with Philip Seymour Hoffman I will definitely watch. That man is an awesome actor!
April 13, 2009
Agreed. Had you heard that he may play Penguin in Nolan's next Batman movie?
April 13, 2009
Nope, but if he does then I will be jumping for joy! So long as Nolan's next Batman film doesn't include Batgirl then I'll be happy. I guess there's no chance for "Scarface" and "Killer Croc" in a Batman film? Penguin is ok, Catwoman I may tolerate, but please stay away from the Riddler!
oh, speaking of mainstream, I reviewed "Day the Earth Stood Still"--I took a cheap shot at Brett Rattner too...LOL
April 13, 2009
Was that a Ratner movie? No wonder it looked dull and predictable. As for the next Batman, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the villains will be either Catwoman, Penguin, or Mad Hatter. Doubtful about Mad Hatter though, since the new Alice movie's coming out. Riddler wouldn't be too bad if they got a really good actor and gave the character a creepy edge like The Joker. In my mind the new Riddler would be something like Jigsaw from the Saw films. he asks a question, you don't give a satisfactory answer and he tortures your ass to death. :) Actually, that would be great. Maybe William H. Macy could play The Riddler. He'd add the creepiness, since he's usually such a lovable goof.
April 14, 2009
no, it wasn't a Rattner film but I wanted to state that the film would've been a lot worse if he was at the helm. I dunno, Macy would be a good Riddler--Zsasz would also be awesome but I doubt that'll happen. What about Poison Ivy?
April 14, 2009
On another note, do you think the new Superman franchise will go further? The recent one with Bryan Singer at the helm was lacking.
April 14, 2009
Poison Ivy seems a little corny, but that could just be myknee-jerk reaction to her portrayal in Batman & Robin. As for the Superman series, I think that one went down on the first try (meaning Singer's film). Personally, I think they need to wait and get a really great script, start with the origin story, and focus more on the classic comics rather than trying to link themselves to the Christopher Reeve films and jumping on the comic-craze trend-train (say that 5 times fast). For me, Superman will only work on screen if they give him some character flaws and really emphasize his mythological inspirations. Afterall, when Siegel and Shuster created him they designed him as a combination of Hercules, Apollo, Adonis, Hermes, and Moses. Lately, everyone's trying to turn Superman into a Christian messianic type, but the fact will always remain that his creators were two poor, Jewish social outcasts looking for work and respect.
More Doubt reviews
review by . January 22, 2011
(some spoilers)      Doubt has the benefit of a great cast, an incredibly well-written story and good direction from the same man who wrote the play. It's definitely not one for everyone, especially those who need explosions and half-naked women to enjoy a movie. It is very dialogue-heavy, and before seeing this movie I had the benefit of reading the play. The movie definitely maintains faithfulness to the play and I am glad that Hollywood did not ruin the play. Every single …
review by . July 23, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
Doubt DVD cover
“A truth that’s told with bad intent… Beats all the lies you can invent.” -William Blake   “It was the schoolboy who said, ‘Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.’” -Mark Twain   There’s a certain quality that a simple work of art possesses that allows it to transcend differences of perspective and opinion, that makes it appealing to people of separate demographics, and that enables people with contrary perceptions to unite …
review by . December 27, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: The camerawork and settings are pretty good      Cons: Weak story, weak characters, weak acting, poor pacing      The Bottom Line: I was ultimately bored.  There was nothing about the story or characters that indicated it was worth any mental/emotional investment.      Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie''s plot. To limit the risk of accidental plagiarism, I tend only to read reviews of the …
Quick Tip by . August 26, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
Unlike religion, I won't tell you what to believe. But I will tell you, without a doubt, that this movie is great, so go check it out!!!
review by . June 01, 2009
Ok, I admit that I had to be forced to watch this. The idea of priests, nuns and potential child abuse is a toxic mix of boredom that makes My Beautiful Launderette seem like a great night of entertainment. It's definitely not my sort of film, but I'll admit that it doesn't have any dragging scenes or slow moments at all, and ranks as one of the best dramas in a long time. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep (where do actors get their names?) turn in fine performances, …
review by . April 16, 2009
DOUBT is a riveting movie with a terrific cast. The story is set in a Catholic school in the mid-1960s, fixed in time by reference to the assassination of JFK. Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) is the tough principal who has no time for the popular, progressive priest of the parish, Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman). When he preaches a sermon on doubt--the lack of moral clarity and how to find your way through it--she sees it as a personal statement of his guilt about something, and warns her nuns …
review by . December 26, 2008
I'll admit that the commercials for this movie didn't make it seem terribly worth seeing. In fact, most of my friends had no idea what I was talking about when I told them I saw this movie. But talk about an exciting drama that somehow leaves you with no solid answers! Despite that, Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman deliver a stunning performance that makes you forget you're in 2008. They take you back to the 1970s where a private Catholic school struggles with staying in the past, or advancing …
review by . May 25, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
Sorry, I'm going to be on the other side of this film, thinking it's not that great. To me it felt like a train wreck running in super slow motion. The story is a fairly well known story, there is no doubt about what will happen. Maybe the only glimmer of doubt I had was how explicit would the director be in describing what happened.     Details unfolded so slowly. This felt like a movies from the 20's or 30's or a Victorian novel, where there was a different viewer dynamic; …
review by . February 08, 2009
Short Attention Span Summary (SASS):     1. Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep) is the iron-fisted Principal of a Catholic school in the Bronx   2. A sermon by Catholic priest Father Flynn (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) causes her to voice some concerns   3. Young Sister James (Amy Adams) notices that Father Flynn is paying special attention to a male student from a minority group   4. She voices her concerns to Sister Aloysius, who believes her concerns …
review by . May 08, 2009
Religion is built on faith. By definition, it must be, for it cannot prove its claims and most of what we know about science refutes most of what's said by religion.    It is using faith that Sister Alloyicious (Meryl Streep), bases her entire case against a charasmatic new priest (Phillip Seymour Hoffman). He's the embodiment of Vatican 2, and she's... well, probably Mel Gibson's grandmother.    The priest is doing things like giving sermons in English, that …
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It's always a risk when writers direct their own work, since some playwrights don't travel well from stage to screen. Aided by Roger Deakins, ofNo Country for Old Menfame, who vividly captures the look of a blustery Bronx winter,Moonstruck's John Patrick Shanley pulls it off. IfDoubtmakes for a dialogue-heavy experience, likeThe Crucibleand12 Angry Men, the words and ideas are never dull, and a consummate cast makes each one count. Set in 1964 and loosely inspired by actual events, Shanley focuses on St. Nicholas, a Catholic primary school that has accepted its first African-American student, Donald Miller (Joseph Foster), who serves as altar boy to the warm-hearted Father Flynn (Phillip Seymour Hoffman). Donald may not have any friends, but that doesn't worry his mother, Mrs. Miller (Viola Davis in a scene-stealing performance), since her sole concern is that her son gets a good education. When Sister James (Amy Adams) notices Flynn concentrating more of his attentions on Miller than the other boys, she mentions the matter to Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep), the school's hard-nosed principal. Looking for any excuse to push the progressive priest out of her tradition-minded institution, Sister Aloysius sets out to destroy him, and if that means ruining Donald's future in the process--so be it. Naturally, she's the least sympathetic combatant in this battle, but Streep invests her disciplinarian with wit and unexpected flashes of empathy. Of...
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Genre: Drama, Gay & Lesbian
Release Date: 2008
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Screen Writer: John Patrick Shanley
DVD Release Date: April 07, 2009
Runtime: 1hr 44min
Studio: Miramax
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