It's 1964, St. Nicholas in the Bronx. A vibrant, charismatic priest, Father Flynn, is trying to upend the school's strict customs, which have long been fiercely guarded by Sister Aloysius Beauvier, the iron-gloved Principal who believes in the power of fear and discipline. The winds of political change are sweeping through the country,...
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It's 1964, St. Nicholas in the Bronx. A vibrant, charismatic priest, Father Flynn, is trying to upend the school's strict customs, which have long been fiercely guarded by Sister Aloysius Beauvier, the iron-gloved Principal who believes in the power of fear and discipline. The winds of political change are sweeping through the country, and, indeed, the school has just accepted its first black student, Donald Miller. But, when Sister James, a hopeful innocent, shares with Sister Aloysius her suspicion that Father Flynn is paying too much personal attention to Donald, Sister Aloysius is galvanized to begin a crusade to both unearth the truth and expunge Flynn from the school. Now, without a shred of proof or evidence except her moral certainty, Sister Aloysius locks into a battle of wills with Father Flynn, a battle that threatens to tear apart the Church and school with devastating consequences.
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Doubt may make you question everything you already think you know -- which is precisely the point.
Writer/director John Patrick Shanley (Moonstruck) adapts his Pulitzer Prize and Tony-winning play Doubt for the big screen, keeping all the themes that made the original work such a hit on stage. Set in 1964, the film version opens up much of the talky proceedings and sets the action in a wind-swept Brooklyn Catholic school where Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is trying to shake up the status quo and introduce a little more free thinking. These actions cause instant friction with the stern Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep), who immediately butts heads with Flynn. Significant change already is taking place as the school has admitted its first black student, Donald Miller (Joseph Foster). When mild-mannered Sister James (Amy Adams) suggests that perhaps Father Flynn is spending too much personal time with Donald, it sets Sister Aloysius off on an ill-considered crusade to get rid of Flynn, triggering a battle of morals, will and, yes, doubt in the minds of both the characters and the audience.
Rather than casting some of his Tony-winning actors from the play, Shanley decided he wanted a blank slate, bringing in a new interpretation to the material. Obvious choice for the taciturn Sister Aloysius is Meryl Streep who, using a slight Brooklyn accent, convincingly tears into the role that won acclaimed actress Cherry Jones a Tony. Streep plays it broadly, and the onscreen fireworks between her and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Flynn are indeed spectacular. Acting just doesn't get much better than this, particularly for Hoffman, who is amazing as the charismatic priest, walking the thin line between personal conviction and guilt. Adams doesn't really get the big scenes but portrays Sister James' hopeful innocence and naiveté with just the right amount of sugar -- not too sweet, not too dark. Top honors in the cast go to Viola Davis as Donald Miller's mother. Taking what is essentially a 10 minute role, Davis will tear your heart out as she desperately pleads with Streep to let Donald stay in school.
John Patrick Shanley clearly has a personal stake in this material and returns to directing for the first time since his ill-fated Joe vs. the Volcano in the early '90s. He seems much more at home with this more intimate piece, casting it smartly and using the weather --including the use of a haunting rustling wind -- as a key part of the background ambience. Doubt is exactly the kind of traditional Broadway adaptation Hollywood used to do so well, particularly in the '50s and '60s, and Shanley smartly doesn't try to muck it up with any flashy filmmaking tricks. He lets his quartet of superior actors do most of the work, turning Doubt into one of the best stage adaptations in many, many years.
Hollywood.com rated this film 3 1/2 stars.
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