Feb 13, 2015

Review: Doubt (2008)

Doubt is another one of those highly-regarded films that ended up slipping through the cracks for me. It's sad really because it racked up five Oscar nominations for the acting performances of Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Viola Davis as well as a best adapted screenplay nomination. It didn't win anything, but that's phenomenal whether or not 2008 was a weak year which I don't think it was.

Doubt reminds me of a funny story though. My parents were at one point renting movies from Blockbuster quite regularly and John Patrick Shanley's Doubt was one of the last ones ever. They were pretty good about returning movies when they were supposed to, but one of my sisters moved the case from the return pile with whatever else my dad was returning. I guess he "doubted" that he had another movie to return and Doubt hung around my house for quite some time after that, resulting in a $60 late fee. After that, my parents didn't really go to Blockbuster anymore.


Genre: drama, mystery
Directed by: John Patrick Shanley
Produced by: Mark Roybal, Scott Rudin, Celia D. Costas, etc.
Written by: John Patrick Shanley
Music by: Howard Shore
Running time: 104 minutes
Production company: Goodspeed Productions, Scott Rudin Productions
Distributed by: Miramax, Maple Pictures, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, etc.
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $20,000,000
Box office: $50,907,234 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Viola Davis, Alice Drummond, Audrie Neenan, Susan Blommaert, Carrie Preston, John Costelloe, Lloyd Clay Brown, Joseph Foster



It's 1964 and Father Brendan Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is giving a sermon about doubt to his parish in the Bronx borough of New York City. Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep), the principal of the parish school, finds the topic a bit strange and asks her fellow sisters to be on the lookout for anything suspicious. Although not realizing at first, Sister James (Amy Adams) begins to suspect that something may be going on between Father Flynn and one of the school's students, Donald Miller (Joseph Foster) who also happens to be the only African-American in the student body.


There's a powerful sense of unease and suspicion in Doubt that continually gets more and more pronounced. From the opening scene, we're made to believe that everything that goes on might be a clue to what's really happening. The smallest details are suddenly important and could be pieces of the puzzle. As a viewer, there are times where you might feel like your "bad" radar is going off but you never really know with 100% certainty if it's really correct. That's the beauty of Doubt. You have doubts about everything.

The story is an adaptation of John Patrick Shanley's Pulitzer Prize winning play who went forward himself writing the script and directing it. It's a tight production, only 104 minutes long and that's all it needs to make its mark. With Roger Deakins on board as director of photography, you can be assured that Doubt looks amazing and I can definitely say that it does.

One of my favourite aspects of the cinematography in Doubt is the use of Dutch angles. Dutch angles always seem to be a prickly technique to use without coming off as silly and I guess we can all blame Battlefield Earth for that one. Deakins uses them to outline a tense moment which a lot of the time are these "quietly tense" scenes. With no one screaming, it's supposed to make the hairs stand up on our necks and to make the us feel disoriented. All I can say is mission accomplished.

I can't talk about Doubt without mentioning the performances even though there's probably been a lot of digital ink already spilled on the subject. I mean, has there ever been a bad Philip Seymour Hoffman performance? If anyone has a candidate I'd like it to be brought to my attention because once again, Hoffman puts on a clinic. It's impossible not to become enraptured when he's onscreen.

Meryl Streep is predictably good and her performance may be my favourite of all that I've seen. She gets the stern nun thing down pat, pretty much scaring me enough to be thankful that I never had a teacher like her. She's so good that you never even feel like you're watching Meryl Streep pretending to be a nun. You're watching a nun. 

I'm a big Amy Adams fan and I'm glad that Philip Seymour Hoffman lobbied as hard as he did to get her cast. Sister James is a great example of good casting since it required someone who could be kindly and innocent. Adams is very capable at delivering that kind of performance and she does it here admirably. 

Doubt really does have it all. The story is taut the whole way through and it doesn't hurt to have a group of magnificent actors plying their trade to the best of their abilities. Even Viola Davis who barely has any screen time managed to nab a nomination for best support actress. You might not think that a movie with nuns in the 1960's would be all that interesting, but you'd be dead wrong. Doubt packs a real punch to the gut once you get to its conclusion. 



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