Review: Doubt (2008)

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I doubt all kinds of things, it’s a fault. But one thing I don’t doubt is that Sr. Birdie beat the crap out of my knuckles during grade school!

Screenplay By: John Patrick Shanley
Directed By: John Patrick Shanley

As trite as it may be to say, Doubt really is all about doubt. Suspicion and doubt are the driving forces behind the film, even beyond the performances, because the performances only help to further fuel the theme of doubt. The way that Roger Deakins and John Patrick Shanley choose to set up the cameras creates a feeling of suspicion long before we have been given anything to suspect story wise. The music also adds to this sense of suspicion about everything, and then when we are finally hit full force by the “event” doubt permeates the entire picture and it seeps into our very pores as well. No answers are given in Doubt, and they wouldn’t be welcome. Instead both sides of the argument present no concrete evidence or dismissals, instead they rely on their ability to craft a case out of nothingness. The film never takes a side, the camera shows Father Flynn as both guilty and wrongly accused while it highlights both the virtues and the devilish side of Sister Beauvier. There is also the side tangents about race, and modernization of the church that are touched upon and given just enough time to matter to the overall story. The area where Doubt is impeccably crafted is in the realm of themes and creating tension through said themes.

This is achieved of course through some truly great performances from Amy Adams, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Meryl Streep and a small but powerful appearance by Viola Davis. These actors and actresses inhabit their roles, their isn’t a moment where a performance seems false (outside of one tiny moment at the end that I will touch on later), and in a movie such as Doubt the actors are paramount in the film succeeding. If someone had played Father Flynn and Sister Beauvier who couldn’t pull off the back and forth argumentative style in convincing fashion the movie would have been dead before it could go anywhere.

Not only are the performances authentic, but the look and dress of the characters is one hundred percent authentic to the time. The viewer is transported to 1960’s New York, and for a lot of us we are transported back to Catholic grammar school. I remember being told that the interactions between the Nuns and students had already considerably changed by the time I enrolled at St. Domitilla’s. But, I also remember more than a few days of bruises on my arms from being pulled out of class or bloody knuckles from a whacking ruler. Doubt is extremely authentic, if it wasn’t it wouldn’t be anywhere near as powerful or come together in such fine fashion

Doubt is very much a stage play given shape on the big screen. It moves and feels like a stage play and that is never a detriment until the very end. The stage play format lets the characters breathe, allows for the tension to build and brings about an unsettling climax. Sadly, the climax isn’t the end of the film and the movie goes into melodrama territory with Meryl Streep’s last words, the only true knock I have against the entire film.

Don’t listen to the people that have complained about Doubt being slow too develop, that’s what we call characterization and allowing the story to actually grow and matter. Doubt is one of the best films of 2008, and it may be the best non-foreign film of 2008 that no one outside of hardcore film fanatics have seen yet. If you are like me and you never had a chance to catch the play, then see the movie, it really is a great film that is worth your time. The quality of this picture is never in doubt and neither is the fact that more people need to experience Doubt.

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill

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5 responses to “Review: Doubt (2008)

  1. mcarteratthemovies

    I realize that Meryl Streep is nominated for an Oscar approximately every 18 seconds, but she truly deserved it for “Doubt” — she’s so understatedly funny and yet so menacing at the same time. I can watch her go head-to-head with Philip Seymour Hoffman for 120 minutes any day of the week!

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  4. She is something in this movie, and to be honest this stood out more for me than a lot of her other Oscar nominated roles.

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