Two of the best actors in Hollywood square off in a Pulitzer Prize-winning showdown of epic proportions. Written and directed by John Patrick Shanley - based on the play by John Patrick Shanley - Doubt is a silver-tongued, sharply written drama about a single event that cascades into a power struggle between a fierce nun and a liberal priest.
Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman star as two individuals at a Catholic school in the 1960's that's facing a turn of the tides in terms of ideals and standards. Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Streep) has been at the school for ages and rules over the children with fear and tyranny, though she passionately cares for them and the welfare of the establishment. Father Brendan Flynn (Hoffman), the new young priest at the school, also cares deeply about the students, but wants to instill a friendlier approach toward the kids and develop mutual relationships with them. But when the young Sister James (Amy Adams) senses that something is amiss about the relationship between a student and Father Flynn, Sister Beauvier sets out to prove the truth - or her truth, at least - and reveal the priest for what he truly is. But is that what he truly is?
Doubt is a superbly written drama that punches in the gut and features powerful performances from everyone involved. Shanley, who has only directed one other movie in his life - and that was Joe and the Volcano way back in 1990 - shows he has talent; the direction isn't complex, but the basic, to-the-point choreography perfectly complements the screenplay, which doesn't hold much back and drives right to the point. At an hour and 40 minutes, Doubt feels brisk and fast-paced, and Shanley maintains the proper tension throughout.
Some people have faulted the dialogue in Doubt for being over the top at times, a remnant of exaggerated speech that works in theater but not on the silver screen. I loved every word of it. For the most part, the dialogue sounded natural, and when it didn't, it was necessary. Frankly, I love exaggerated films such as this, especially when they don't feel exaggerated.
Of course, a great screenplay can be ruined by mediocre acting, but Meryl Streep brings her most convincing performance in years to the table. Her slightly nasally, Boston-twanged accent works wonders, and she brings subtle compassion to a character that could easily be regarded as an evil bitch. Hoffman also brings his A-game, though he doesn't command the screen the way Streep does. Still, when Streep and Hoffman get in a room together - and they do - they tear it up. Thinking of that, Viola Davis, in her one scene, tears it up with Streep on the receiving end. The one actress who may be overlooked is Amy Adams, though she is also excellent albeit in a less powerful way. I see a supporting Oscar nod coming her way.
Doubt is a fast-paced, powerful and emotionally disturbing tale that ranks as one of the year's best. Beyond the storytelling, the movie features several Oscar-worthy performances, and that's a rare feat.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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