Thursday, 15 January 2009


Written and directed by John Patrick Shanley

A tough New York school principal fears one of her most vulnerable students may be the target of a predator.  Determined to protect him, she confronts her suspect: but this is 1964, and not only is the principal female, she is a nun of the Roman Catholic Church and accusing the universally admired school priest.

Facing off against Meryl Streep's steely-eyed Sister Aloysius, jovial Father Flynn (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) proves a strong adversary.  Na├»ve young Sister James (Amy Adams) is drawn into the argument, and wavers between the evidence of her own eyes and her natural inability to believe the worst.

Skilfully insinuating unease and uncertainty into the minds of the audience, the film proves its point: doubt is an exceptionally strong force.  Searching for the truth, the film journeys through a huge array of thematic considerations – race, gender, religion and morality are all called into question, and our opinions and perceptions seesaw in the balance.  By the time the credits roll, it’s rather difficult to know what to believe.

Writer-director John Patrick Shanley has brilliantly adapted his own Pulitzer Prize winning play for the movies.  The bleak streetscapes and cramped interiors take on emotional significance as fireworks erupt between the leads.  Although Streep has been getting the accolades, it’s actually not one of her best efforts.  It’s Hoffman who shines, alternately uncomfortably slimy and radiating with innocently righteous anger, making the scenes between the two leads sizzle.

Doubt is not action-packed, but movie-goers who like a puzzle will find it gripping and rewarding.  It’s featured heavily in nominations this awards season, and will almost certainly make an appearance at the Oscars in February.* 
This review was originally written for an online magazine, and is republished with permission.

* Postscript: Doubt was indeed represented at the Oscars, with five nominations in acting and writing - but no wins.

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