Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
Actors: Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams
Genres: Drama, Special Interests
From Miramax Films comes one of the most honored and acclaimed motion pictures of the year, Doubt. Based on the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning play, Doubt is a mesmerizing, suspense-filled drama with four riveting p... more »
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A Hard Habit to Break
B. Wells | Florida | 12/29/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In "The Devil Wears Prada", Meryl Streep armored herself in an icily glamorous veneer, striking terror into the hearts of subordinates with a deadly combination of haughty contempt and soft-spoken venom. Her turn as an Anna Wintour-ish magazine editor was funny, yet subtle, never succumbing to over-the-top theatrics that would have propelled the performance into caricature. As the formidable Sister Aloysius in John Patrick Shanley's new film version of his Broadway hit, "Doubt", Streep again assays the role of an unlikable character, this time with a terrifying earnestness that eschews subtlety for the ferocious passion of a woman for her beliefs.
Set in an urban Catholic school circa 1964, "Doubt" unfolds in a rapidly changing America that many aren't yet ready to embrace. The Kennedy assassination is still fresh in everyone's minds, and the civil rights movement has resulted in the enrollment of the first black student in the Italian-Irish parish school. The parish priest, a forward-thinking and open-minded (relative) newcomer, is destined to clash with the school's principal, an old-school, fire-breathing dragon of a nun. When a question of priestly impropriety with the black student arises, all hell breaks loose, as Sister Aloysius jumps at the opportunity to rid her world of a man whom she clearly considers unworthy of wearing the robes of the priesthood. Whether her certainty of the priest's guilt is a manifestation of her dislike for the man, or a show of genuine concern for the welfare of the young student, becomes a point of contention between Sister Aloysius and the younger, sweet-natured Sister James who, naively, started the ball rolling in the first place. As Sister Aloysius relentlessly presses on with her unofficial (and unsanctioned) witch hunt, the filmmakers play on the audience's doubts, not only about the nun's motivations, but whether or not the priest actually engaged in an improper relationship with the boy.
As already noted, Meryl Streep's Sister Aloysius is a force to be reckoned with. A black clad harpy who eats nails for breakfast and has acid for blood, she's a likely descendant of Vincent Price's witchfinder general in "The Conqueror Worm". Utterly humorless, Sister Aloysius inhabits an archaic world in which everything can be viewed as either black or white, right or wrong. There are no grey areas and, thus, no room for doubt. That the times are changing is not lost on Sister Aloysius and, with her stern, strident face and quick, huffy mannerisms, the frustration is evident, even as she tries to enforce her sense of normalcy and values---her draconian Catholicism--on an institution that she fears will soon find her obsolete. It is not just the boy's welfare that is at stake, nor that of the priest, nor even the Catholic Church---it is the future of Sister Aloysius, herself, that hinges on evicting the interloper and his near-blasphemous (in her mind) ideas of progress and forward movement (thus calling into question the Sister's own authority). But just when think you've had enough and are secretly hoping that the priest, Father Flynn, will throw this merciless, headstrong woman out of a window, the actress gives us something--a gesture, a look, a tone--to remind us that Sister Aloysius is not invulnerable, that she is a real person who, behind the corporeal severity, is afraid and all-too-human.
Meryl Streep has long been regarded as one of the world's premier film actresses. There's a reason for that, and it's on display right here in this film. She has always had the ability to totally inhabit the characters that she's portraying, but in "Doubt", she goes a step further, causing me to momentarily forget that I was watching Meryl Streep giving a performance. For the duration of the film, she actually was Sister Aloysius. She's such a good actress that it's almost impossible to imagine her leaving the set to drive one of her kids to soccer practice. Or going home to prepare dinner. She's uncannily, impossibly, almost inhumanly good, and her performance in this film reminded me, once again, of what a spectacular talent she is.
For all of five minutes, Streep is nearly matched in the acting department by Viola Davis, a little-heralded actress who excels (all-too briefly) as the mother of the alleged victim. The scene where she and Streep walk along a sidewalk, discussing the implications of what the Sister is suggesting, and the subsequent reaction of the child's mother, is shattering. It is completely moving, without ever seeming maudlin or manipulative, the way plays-to-movies sometimes are.
As Father Flynn, Philip Seymour Hoffman does a fine job of bringing to life a conflicted, ambitious priest who wishes only to connect with the larger community and make the Church more inclusive, less intimidating. Being parish priest, Father Flynn occupies a loftier position than Sister Aloysius (demonstrated when he casually takes over her desk during meetings), but to her, he clearly occupies a lower moral plain: he smokes, he laughs and jokes with the students, he uses sugar in his tea---it's not a great leap from there to child molesting in Sister Aloysius' mind. On the surface, Hoffman's Father Flynn is a sincere, genial character, but as with other Hoffman roles, there's something edgier (and possibly a little perverse) going on underneath; in "Doubt", the question of guilt is never proven, and yet the ambiguity of Hoffman's performance causes doubts to remain long after the movie is over.
As Sister James, the true moral center of the story, Amy Adams is (as usual) luminous, even without makeup, and brings a convincing emotional depth to her character. Initially suspecting some sort of impropriety between Father Flynn and his pupil, Sister James almost immediately comes to regret her decision to confide in Sister Aloysius. An immensely watchable actress, Adams seems to be branching out and testing her mettle in more serious pieces of work, after a string of frothy, feel-good films of varying quality.
In shifting his Broadway success from stage to screen, director Shanley does an admirable job of making a smooth transition; I never got the impression that I was watching a filmed play, and the (roughly) 105 minute running time flew by so quickly that I'm not sure I ever blinked. Sitting in an audience composed largely of senior citizens, I noticed that not one of them got up to go to the bathroom during the movie, so that alone, speaks volumes.
Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actr
Zechristof | Antonito CO United States | 12/28/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"No predictions here about who will win Academy Awards, but this film is certainly the best I have seen in 2008. Meryl Streep is superb as Sister Aloysius, the principal of a Catholic secondary school that faces a coming era of change in 1964 when this drama is set. The night before I saw "Doubt", I watched the DVD of Mamma Mia! How can one woman be so talented? Meryl Streep is simply amazing. Philip Seymour Hoffman has to be a lock for best actor performance in my book. He matches Streep stride for stride, and convinces us of his role with subtlety of facial expression as well as a huge dynamic range of tone and timbre in the delivery of his lines. Best Supporting Actresses -- and there are two. The larger part belongs to Amy Adams, who is superbly nuanced as Sister James. In her role, we can almost feel the innocence of the 1950s becoming the breakdown of authority in the 60's and 70's. Little foxes running rampant in the vineyard! I was stunned by Adams' acting skill in this very difficult role. However, I cannot give her my supporting actress award by herself. Viola Davis, as the mother of a troubled black student at the school, has only one long scene plus a short later appearance. She handles it with consummate skill. Try conveying a realistic portrayal of a mother who is willing to accept a lesser evil in the life of her son in order to avoid a much greater evil. But both options are evil and destructive. Davis carries the day to perfection.
Well, I don't have time to go through all the other badges of excellence this film should receive: best script (one of the best EVER), subtle direction, superb cinematography -- you feel like you are watching a black and white film at times, even though it is in color, because the cinematography matches so well with the somber mood of some scenes.
Message. Lots of small messages that add up to one big message. A person has only so much capacity for dealing with and surviving the ravages of doubt. If you spend all of your certainty potential on a minor matter (oh, and you may be wrong about that), you won't have any left to deal with the really big decisions about God and your relationship with Him.
Summary: This is a movie for thinking adults. If you are willing to invest a few hours in it, you will reap a huge return. If you are only looking for a light-hearted hour of entertainment, you might want to avoid this one. But, then, you will have missed the Best Picture, the Best Actress, the Best Actor, and the Best Supporting Actresses of 2008. Of that, I am certain."
Is doubt a virtue?
David Bonesteel | Fresno, CA United States | 12/28/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"At a Catholic school circa 1964, doubt has begun to enter a world of certainty. Times are changing and the Catholic Church is becoming more liberal. This sets the stage for a battle between principal Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) and Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Sister Aloysius suspects Father Flynn of inappropriate behavior with a student (Joseph Foster II) on very circumstantial evidence and makes it her crusade to remove him from his position. As she says, she has no proof, but she has her certainty.
It is this certainty which seems to make her a monster, as she dismisses each bit of information or alternate interpretation of events that would cast doubt on her belief. But this would not be such a rich film if writer / director John Patrick Shanley had made it that simple. The viewer is never given satisfactory ground for completely siding with either the sister or the father. While it is very clear that Sister Aloysius is very rigid, cold, and judgmental, it is also possible that she is right. I admire the way Shanley encourages us to think about the issues raised and draw our own conclusions, which is why I was very disappointed in the final moments of this film, in which Shanley makes explicit a element of his theme that would have been better left understated, ending his script on a rather jarring note. Amy Adams, who plays the young sister caught in the middle of this battle, and Viola Davis, who plays the boy's mother, also deserve mention for their powerful performances.
Interesting idea only sporadically well executed
Roland E. Zwick | Valencia, Ca USA | 01/06/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
Strong performances are the saving grace of "Doubt," an otherwise uneven, overly glib tale of possible sexual abuse in one New York City parish circa 1964.
Sister Aloysius is a tradition-bound nun who goes through life utterly untroubled by uncertainty or doubt, running her convent and grade school with unyielding self-righteousness and the iron fist of unchallenged authority. Sister Aloysius doesn't take any more kindly to the accoutrements of the modern world - she has banned all ballpoint pens from the premises and decries "Frosty the Snowman" as a celebration of pagan magic - than she does to the "liberalizing" effect Vatican II has had on the Church she views as the last bastion of morality in an increasingly permissive and immoral world. This puts her in direct conflict with Father Flynn, a reform-minded, man-of-the-people priest who is more concerned with his parishioners' needs than with church ritual per se - yet whom Sister Aloysius has reason to suspect might be a pedophile. Or is she simply targeting the man and seeing what she wants to see because his view of the Church is so at odds with her own? The third main character, Sister James, is a perpetually upbeat but generally naïve novice who becomes more than a disinterested bystander in the war-of-wills that erupts between her two equally hardnosed superiors.
In adapting his play to the screen, writer/director John Patrick Shanley hits on some intriguing themes revolving around certainty vs. doubt and traditionalism vs. progressivism, but the movie isn't always as intellectually honest and convincing as one might wish it to be, especially when Shanley indulges in such hokey effects as the winter wind batting against the windows or well-orchestrated thunder bolts crashing overhead at "meaningful" and dramatic moments in the picture. Similarly, the reactions the characters have to one another and the situation they're involved in don't always ring true given the less enlightened time period in which the story takes place. And the final "transformative" moment comes upon us with such abruptness and with so little preparation that it quite literally rings down the curtain on the entire enterprise.
Yet, despite all these flaws, "Doubt" periodically rises to the occasion and does justice to the complexity of its subject matter. This is particularly the case in a searing scene between Sister Aloysius and the mother of one of the boys who may have fallen victim to Father Flynn's inappropriate conduct, a scene that catches us completely off-guard with its sheer unexpectedness and its paradigm-shifting effect on the story.
Moreover, the performances are uniformly excellent, starting with Meryl Streep who brings a surprising amount of humor and even warmth to a character who is, for all intents and purposes, cut off from her emotions by her dogmatically rigid nature. Phillip Seymour Hoffman effectively keeps us guessing as to the truth about his character, never tipping his hand one way or the other as to what is taking place in the depths of his soul. Amy Adams makes a compelling stand-in for those of us in the audience who are trying to reserve judgment on these two characters before all the facts are revealed. Special note must also be taken of Viola Davis, superb in her brief but unforgettable appearance as the mother who delivers an unsettling response to news that her son may have been the victim of a sexual predator.
The movie seems to suggest that one can never have one hundred percent certitude about anything in this life and that actions must often be taken even when all the "facts" in a particular case can never be fully known. Yet, what happens when such an action could result in the destruction of another person's livelihood and reputation? It's an interesting theme that is only sporadically well addressed by "Doubt," but the food-for-thought that the movie provides makes it worth checking out anyway."