Couldn't help myself with the pun, there. I just saw the film 'Doubt', written and directed by the playwright, John Patrick Shanley (a good Irish-Catholic boy, no doubt), who won a Pulitzer Prize for his original play of the same name, and starring one of the tightest, most brilliant casts I think I've ever seen on screen: notably, the ever-formidable and ridiculously talented Meryl Streep, and the equally virtuosic chameleon Philip Seymour Hoffman. However, Viola Davis in particular deserves major acknowledgment, as her one speaking scene in the film, opposite Streep, showed how powerful an actor can be even with less than ten minutes on screen. Amy Adams was also terrific as a naive young nun who becomes sort of a human moral scale, weighing the accusations flying between Streep's Sister Aloysius and Hoffman's Father Flynn with a bewilderment that mirrors that of the audience as we grapple with the grave issues presented in the film.
The film can be summarized, or written off, depending on how you see it--the way that another amazing film, 'Brokeback Mountain', could be written off as the 'gay cowboy movie' when it's so much more than that--as the 'Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal movie'. And despite the injustice of that description to the film, I think if that kind of controversial summary makes people come to the theater to watch it, then great. I think every Catholic or recovering Catholic, at minimum, should see this film. I don't want to say too much more because this is the type of film that's best enjoyed through conversation with other viewers, because the director/writer leaves so much up to subjective interpretation. And I like that. He and the actors have set up a world that is totally believable (although H. could barely believe that even during my Catholic school experience in the 1980s I knew nuns like Sister Aloysius and was as terrified of them as the school kids in the film are of Streep's character), and with it, they pull you in irresistibly with universal and immortal themes of faith, redemption, the complexity of human nature, and, yes, doubt.
As a survivor of sexual abuse myself, I appreciated the nuances of morality and the lack of judgment of the characters that permeated the film. It offers a very humanizing portrait of what can be a very polarizing and dehumanizing (for all people involved, from perpetrator to victim) experience.
I will say that the film is far from perfect, with some heavy-handed symbolism getting in the way of even this ultra-ritualistic Catholic School-girl's enjoyment. But all in all, it's a tightly-crafted, important film and seeing it is well worth the price of admission.
If you need more encouraging, a couple reviews that I liked can be found on the Independent Critic web site (this one is written by a sexual abuse survivor, at Pajiba (which wins the award for best self-description of its site: Scathing Reviews for Bitchy People), and the New York Times.
Suffice it to say that beyond a shadow of a doubt (there I go again with the puns!), this is probably the best film I've seen this year. I hope Oscar will too.
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