Directed by John Patrick Shanley
Starring: Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Viola Davis
Before beginning my review of Doubt, let me just run down the list of achievements that the 2004 play received: Tony Award for Best Play, Best Actress (Cherry Jones), Best Featured Actress (Adriane Lenox), Best Direction (Doug Hughes), Pulitzer Prize for Drama, New York Drama Critics’ Circle Best Play, Five Drama Desk Awards, and Four more Tony Awards Nominations. I think it’s important to point out the accomplishments of the 2004 play before discussing the movie. John Patrick Shanley, the playwright, created a tense and complex story for the stage that left audiences baffled and critics applauding. This kind of response didn’t fully translate to the screen, but the story’s so powerful that it still made for a very good film.
Set in 1964 at a Catholic school in the Bronx, Doubt revolves around four central characters: Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Streep), Father Flynn (Hoffman), Sister James (Adams), and Donald Muller’s mother (Davis). Sister Beauvier and Father Flynn engage in a dangerous game of accusations when she believes that Father Flynn abused altar boy Donald Muller, who is the only African-American student at St. Nicholas School. He denies it. Innocent Sister James gets sucked into their tricks. While she obeys Sister Beauvier’s orders, she ends up believing Father Flynn.
So who to trust? Who to believe? What really happened? That serves as both the fun and the suspense in Doubt. John Patrick Shanley has penned a very cunning screenplay that leaves the audience playing the film again and again in their mind until they reach a conclusion of what happened. But even after that, you’re simply still not sure.
One thing is certain though… Father Flynn and Sister Beauvier are both antagonists in each other’s minds. Beauvier is the hard-nosed, cold-hearted principal that shows no sympathy or compassion to anyone, anywhere. She is aging and bitter to the changing world. She forbids ball-point pens, electronics, and sugar. She is the one person you don’t want to tick off. There’s no surprise she doesn’t like Father Flynn from the start, who is the new order in the School; a friendly companion to the students and lenient in enforcing the rules. His sermons stray from preaching and instead offers enlightment towards internal conflicts and doubt.
If there was anything that should attract you to watch this movie, it would simply be the excellent acting showcase. Meryl Streep falls deeply into her role like no other woman can. Philip Seymour Hoffman shows off his talent by keeping up with Streep in every scene. Amy Adams plays the naive Sister James very well as she’s slowly being tortured by the wear of their ongoing battle. But the performance that will take your breath away is Viola Davis playing Donald Muller’s mother. Her scene alongside Meryl Streep isn’t just the most pivotal in the film, it’s the most memorable. Viola Davis goes above and beyond, expressing her perspective on the situation involving her child that adds layers of complexity to the issue. Let me re-phrase my earlier statement: If there was anything that should attract you to watch this movie, it would be to witness Viola Davis’ scene.
Doubt certainly isn’t for everyone, but I believe everyone could take something from the movie. It initiates discussion, questions beliefs and morals, and challenges ourselves to accept the things we can’t possibly know. It’s not a perfect movie, but it’s a hell of a good one.