Published Dec 11, 2008With doubt substituting for a world-weathered practicality and a disillusioned, if antiquated, reminiscence of traditional values and all things left behind - mainly that of innocence - Doubt raises some interesting questions of morality, assumption and the peculiarity of circumstance and bias. There is a fierce intelligence demonstrated through exploration of character, as each reaction and revelation comes twofold with new possibilities and an increasing number of opened doors.
While it is true that Shanley's direction occasionally reaches for cinematic artistic necessity where there is none, getting wrapped up in tilted and bizarre low angles, and that the movie itself is little more than a filmed stage production with showy performances from the able cast, Doubt is consistently amusing, challenging, engaging and entertaining on a cognitive level.
After Father Brendan Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman), an affable teacher, removes the only black student (Joseph Foster) from a classroom under questionable circumstances, idealistic Sister James (Amy Adams) decides to share this possible indiscretion with the rigid principal, Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep), who assumes molestation occurred.
Without directly questioning the student, and attempting to remain within the appropriate confines of her role, Sister Beauvier strives to uncover the truth of what happened to Donald in the rectory, despite Father Flynn's aggressive denial of such conjecture and the revelation that the boy may have homosexual inclinations, as suggested by his mother (an impressive Viola Davis).
Many will wonder whether the boy's homosexuality even matters in relation to the alleged molestation, or will believe that Father Flynn's refutation implicates him on merit alone, which is part of the charm of Doubt. It brings personal beliefs and ideologies into the fold, assuring a variety of reactions to the text.
Much of the buzz about the film comes from a reported "Oscar-calibre" (whatever that means these days) performance from Streep. While it would be fun to refute that statement, the reality is that she is nothing short of amazing in the role, wearing conflict, beliefs and more interestingly, rage on her sleeve without being egregious about it. Hoffman and Adams hold their own as well, bringing an additional level of tension and complexity to an already dense story. (Maple)