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Written and directed by Academy Award-winner John Patrick Shanley (Moonstruck) and with an exceptional cast including Academy Award-winners Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman plus Academy Award-nominee Amy Adams, Doubt is a gripping story about the quest for truth, the forces of change and the devastating consequences of blind justice in an age defined by moral conviction.
It’s 1964, St. Nicholas in the Bronx. A vibrant, charismatic priest, Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman), is trying to upend the school’s strict customs, which have long been fiercely guarded by Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep), the iron-gloved Principal who believes in the power of fear and discipline. The winds of political change are sweeping through the community and indeed, the school has just accepted its first black student, Donald Miller. But when Sister James (Amy Adams), a hopeful innocent, shares with Sister Aloysius her guilt-inducing suspicion that Father Flynn is paying too much personal attention to Donald, Sister Aloysius sets off on a personal crusade to unearth the truth and to expunge Flynn from the school. Now, without a shard of proof besides her moral certainty, Sister Aloysius locks into a battle of wills with Father Flynn which threatens to tear apart the community with irrevocable consequence.
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It's always a risk when writers direct their own work, since some playwrights don't travel well from stage to screen. Aided by Roger Deakins, of No Country for Old Men fame, who vividly captures the look of a blustery Bronx winter, Moonstruck's John Patrick Shanley pulls it off. If Doubt makes for a dialogue-heavy experience, like The Crucible and 12 Angry Men, the words and ideas are never dull, and a consummate cast makes each one count. Set in 1964 and loosely inspired by actual events, Shanley focuses on St. Nicholas, a Catholic primary school that has accepted its first African-American student, Donald Miller (Joseph Foster), who serves as altar boy to the warm-hearted Father Flynn (Phillip Seymour Hoffman). Donald may not have any friends, but that doesn't worry his mother, Mrs. Miller (Viola Davis in a scene-stealing performance), since her sole concern is that her son gets a good education. When Sister James (Amy Adams) notices Flynn concentrating more of his attentions on Miller than the other boys, she mentions the matter to Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep), the school's hard-nosed principal. Looking for any excuse to push the progressive priest out of her tradition-minded institution, Sister Aloysius sets out to destroy him, and if that means ruining Donald's future in the process--so be it. Naturally, she's the least sympathetic combatant in this battle, but Streep invests her disciplinarian with wit and unexpected flashes of empathy. Of all the characters she's played, Sister Aloysius comes closest to caricature, but she never feels like a cartoon; just a sad woman willing to do anything to hold onto what little she has before the forces of change render her--and everything she represents--redundant. --Kathleen C. Fennessy
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Top Customer Reviews
Everyone will have their own opinion in the end, but the negative reviews of this film to date appear particularly misleading (incidentally one of them actually contains spoilers--shouldn't Amazon.co.uk filter these out?), and I feel the need to clarify a few things.
You see, this is NOT a courtroom drama or a John Grisham action thriller. Some of the reviewers seem to have expected this to be the case, since the story revolves around whether a priest is guilty of a heinous crime. But what this film is actually about is what you learn in the process of his persecution by the mother superior.
In "Doubt", people reveal just how far they are willing to go in pursuit of a cause they believe in. Love of God is put to test as human, almost primal urges rear their head. Parents are shown to be willing to make unspeakable compromises. And a young and naive nun learns that little is certain, except eternal doubt.
The setting of the film at a Catholic school in a largely Irish/American Catholic neighbourhood of the Bronx in 1964 - a year after the deaths of JFK and Pope John XXXIII and the convocation of the second Vatican Council, which boldly sought a rapprochement of the Catholic church with the modern world - emphasises the central conflict of the film between:- (A) The old certainties of the past, as embodied by Meryl Streep's arch-traditionalist, stern, foreboding, ball-point pen hating nun. (B) The ever-increasing uncertainties of the present represented by Patrick Seymour Hoffman's modernist, charming and openly liberal parish priest.
The story is ostensibly a sort of 'whodunnit'? (or rather 'did-he-do-it'?) in regards to allegations of innappropriate relations with children but on a deeper level probes further into the nature of faith in an ever-changing and increasingly secularised world. Is Phillip Seymour Hoffman's character a sexual predator or merely a misunderstood victim? is Meryl Streep's character an overzealous gossip or true believer? there is indeed doubt. The film does not underestimate the intelligence of the audience and allows for several interpretations. Thought-provoking, engrossing and well-acted by a strong cast. A film that is well worth a watch.
There is such subtlety in how Fr Flynn interacts with the boys. He is positive and encouraging, warm and snarky. Yet the boys all flinch when he thrusts his long fingernails at them. Well all except Donald Miller, the boy under observation. Fr Flynn wants to innovate, Frosty the snowman, have a camping trip. Warning bells!!! Not Frosty, but the camping trip, an ideal occasion of total access to the boys.
Donald's mum hoped that the priest was kind to her son, regardless of his motivation. That sounded cold, until she said his life was in danger if he had to return to his last school or his father thought his son's "personality" had been discovered. The cruelty in that boy's life was barely sketched, but that was a theme that played whenever Sr Aloysius had dealings with children. The children were either a problem that needed correction and they should shut up. The other teachers and nuns were far warmer.
Cue Fr Flynn cuddling Donald in the corridor... he must have felt so secure to do that, either because he was innocent, or because he was in brazenly open and despite confessing to terrible sin "would never feel true regret" in Sr Aloysius' damning phrase.
I am puzzled about why Sr James hid the most telling evidence (the undershirt returned by the priest direct into Donald's locker) - was it inexperience, that she could not infer how the shirt was in his possession?Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Doubt is a slow-burner, methodical, thoughtful and I absolutely loved it. The central partnerships of Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour-Hoffman and Amy Adams are truly sublime with... Read morePublished 1 month ago by John Vine
This is a triumph on all levels. It's difficult to say too much without spoilers so I will just say this: a very intense film, Amy Adams as the innocent youngster, that sees the... Read morePublished 3 months ago by Ozymandias
A terrific film with two great actors. Meryl Streep almost pantomime villain like in her quest to oust the much liked Philip Seymour Hoffman from a Catholic School. Read morePublished 4 months ago by smudge1973