Saturday, May 2, 2009

Review: Doubt

Doubt (2008) is based upon the play of the same name by John Patrick Shanley. Set exclusively inside a repressive catholic school somewhere in New England in the 1960's, it is a film about the struggle between doubt and certainty, and how this struggle can blow up into a heartrending, soul shattering battle when the combatants are forced to exist in such a buttoned-down environment. 
Amy Adams (pictured) stars as Sister James, a young nun and teacher at the school. She is a quietly positive, gentle little flower pressed into a black habit. Brilliantly played, Adams' Sister James is the fragile, calm rope that two opposing forces tug at voraciously, each with possibly ill intent. One, the instigator, is Meryl Streep (insert requisite praise here) as the school's hard, cold principal. Streep is downright hawk-like here, her birdy face stone-cut, her big spectacle-eyes like lasers. She suspects that the head priest and one of the students are engaged in... something; it is never addressed straight on. This is how repressed these people are; even behind closed doors, and in the throws of what passes for passionate speech, they cannot bring themselves to say what everyone seems to be thinking. The priest, played with superb aplomb by Philip Seymour Hoffman, is the other tugger here. He is kind and intelligent and progressive, all qualities that Sister James can appreciate and in fact admires. So Streep and Hoffman do their dance, their duel, and sweet Sister James has a choice to make; this little leaf threatens to be torn asunder.
Shanely seems to have some understanding of cinematic storytelling. In the beginning, at least, he lets the camera do most of the talking, which is as it should be. Little scenes that just watch, from afar, the daily life at the school are really quite sublime. It is only later, when accusations are thrown and much near-exposition is spat that things sag and become uninteresting. It can be said without spoiling things that this reviewer felt the end of the film did not deposit us in a different enough place than where we began. Or it was not compelling enough. It said what it wanted to say, but it might have taken too long to say it. 

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