Starring: Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams
Directed by: John Patrick Shanley (“Joe Versus the Volcano”)
Written by: John Patrick Shanley (“Alive”)
Watching two acting heavyweights like Academy-Award winners Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman go head-to-head with material written for the stage can be seriously nerve-wracking. It’s simply impossible to grip onto each word they hiss at each other or catch every glance glared back and forth between them. There are moments in “Doubt” where – as cliché as it sounds – I didn’t want to blink.
It’s different when you use that sentiment with a film like “Doubt,” though. While most people would say they couldn’t tear their eyes away from the screen during a multimillion-dollar special effect, there are no bells and whistles in John Patrick Shanely’s opus. All it is is raw emotion and talent. It’s an actor’s showcase.
Meryl Streep plays Sister Aloysius Beauvier, the principal of a Catholic school in the Bronx in 1964, who accuses one of the priests, Father Brendan Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman), of committing an impious act with a shy black student without any real concrete evidence. Sister Aloysius is an intimidating figure and feels if there is anyone that can get the truth out of Father Flynn, it would be her.
Amy Adams (“Junebug”) plays Sister James, an idealist nun who first takes suspicion to Father Flynn’s behavior toward the student before reporting it to Sister Aloysius. Her nature is not to be untrustworthy, but with Sister Aloysius certainty about what she thinks she knows, there is very little that can be said to change her mind. It’s actress Viola Davis (“Solaris”) who comes the closest to cutting Streep’s Aloysius down to size. She, along with Streep and Hoffman, are shoe-ins for Oscar nominations. (Adams isn’t far behind either).
In “Doubt,” Shanely has created a cinematic paradox. As each of these characters slice each other down, they all reveal their own moral shortcomings. It’s shocking how well a story like this also divulges what kind of thinkers we are. Do we think on impulse and what we know to be true in our own heart or is there always doubt without specific proof? “Doubt” won’t give you the answers you’re looking for, but you’ll be replaying the scenarios through your head long after the curtain falls.