There Is No “Doubt” That This Is A Lesson In Acting

Primarily a writer, (whether it be films or plays) Oscar-winner, John Patrick Shanley (Best Original Screenplay for 1987’s Moonstruck) had only directed one of his own scripts before this year’s Doubt, which was the oddball romantic comedy, Joe Versus The Volcano. He has had many ups and downs throughout his career, but it is certain that he has remained true to being a daring original writer, and when he’s on he is spot-on. His new film, the aforementioned, Doubt, is his first directing gig in 18 years. I can only assume that he has chosen to direct here primarily because he knows the material better than anyone, and it’s probably such a piece that he holds dear that he wouldn’t want to give it to anyone else in the possibility that they could mistreat it and not do it cinematic justice. He won multiple awards for the play of the same name, most notably the Pulitzer Prize; and watching the film it is easy to understand why such acclaim has made its way to this fascinating material.

Shanley’s story is set in 1964 at a Catholic School in the Bronx, where signs of modern education and leniency are beginning to make their way into this particular establishment, among other things; and they are all about to meet their clashing match in Sister Aloysius. Meryl Streep gives one of the most impressive performances of her storied and legendary career as Aloysius, a nun who has built a reputation over decades of being as strict a principal as they come, keeping the ever-rotating student body in line and then some. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Father Flynn, the recently-appointed priest to the school whose ideas and suggestions for new advancements and changes in the system of education are inevitably going to rub on Aloysius the wrong way. The Sister will stay out of Flynn’s way as much as she can, though, in respect of the hierarchy in which he stands. However, after letting a recent sermon by Flynn  focusing on the effect of doubt in a world of certainty, fill her mind with various thoughts, she decides to begin a relentless campaign to uncover what she believes to be ungodly behavior beneath Flynn’s exterior.

Addressing her concerns with the rest of the nuns, and in particular Sister James, Aloysius paves a road powered by what is at first certainty but later fueled by what could possibly be a delusion-filled power-trip. The entire experience is weaved so masterfully by Shanley, and along with the brilliant cinematographer, Roger Deakins, this is one of the most successful play-to-film adaptations to have come out. The climax of the film is in the confrontations between Aloysius and Flynn, but to desire a concrete resolution is to ultimately let the point of it all fly right by your head. Whether or not the molestation accusations by the Sisters come to be true or false is not really a matter to the power of the film at all, but only the battle of stands attempting to be held down by each of these individuals. This is a film that whatever your thoughts on it, like it or hate it, you will not be able to deny that it contains some of the most scintillating acting you will ever see in your lifetime. Every year there is one standout film that you can instantly feel that script-to-actor is perfectly cast. Last year it was Tony Gilroy’s Michael Clayton, and there is no questioning that Doubt takes that title in 2008.

4 STARS

Cast
Meryl Streep
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Amy Adams
Viola Davis

Based on the Play “Doubt: A Parable” by
John Patrick Shanley

Written For the Screen and Directed by
John Patrick Shanley

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