The film adaptation of this award winning play is superbly acted, beautifully shot, and while maybe a bit long winded from time to time, it remains constantly engaging and keeps you guessing and talking after the film is over.
Sister James (Amy Adams) is the newest sister and teacher at the local Bronx church school which is run by Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meyrl Streep), a old school, tough as nails nun that hands out punishment at will and always looking to straighten some one out. Sister Aloysius is also always looking out for the best for her church and school, and the newest priest, Father Flynn (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), has popped up on her radar. Flynn is seeking change in the church, Flynn is a threat to Aloysius and her ways and when Sister James notices an odd behavior from the school’s only black student Donald Miller after he was called to the rectory by Father Flynn. Aloysius reading into the encounter assumes the worst, and quickly gets the naive and vulnerable Sister James behind her in her investigation. A game of posturing and positioning between Flynn and Aloysius begins, while Aloysius turns over every stone to pin her accusations on Flynn.
John Patrick Stanley directs from his own script and play and the effect is mostly effective. There are a couple of scenes toward the tail end that feel a bit too long, but not uninteresting, as it is unusual for scenes to linger as long as they do in this film. And while like I said, the scenes never really dull, it is just unusual. Closer, a fantastic play adaptation also has extended scenes of dialogue as well, but for whatever reason it worked in that film much better then it did here. Maybe it just needed a bit of finer editing, I don’t know, but something is holding doubt back from shooting into one of the top films of the year for me. With that said, it is one of the finest acted films of the year all around by its cast.
Amy Adams is sweet and innocent as Sister James, and her eyes perfectly added to her naive character as she gets lost in them on as to what she should believe. Her arc in the classroom is also very good and her final scenes with her students is telling as to the effect of her realizing how manipulated she can be. Her character also leaves you thinking the most as to who she would become after the events of this film, what life she would leave, would she stay in the church or would Aloysius end up running her out of there. Streep on the other hand is a fairly one note character and not nearly as deep Sister James, but she is wickedly mean and full of energy when it comes to cracking down on the school kids. Streep is fun to watch and when she goes toe to toe with Father Flynn it is quite the showdown. Hoffman as Flynn is also very creepy yet caring all at once, never letting us know what to believe and who’s side we should be on, his or Aloysius. Viola Davis is also getting a lot of press for her role as the boy Donald’s mother, and while she is very good, I don’t know if she is as great as some people are hailing her for. Not trying to take anything away from her great performance, just saying there are a few other people that I think that out shine her this year.
In the end, Doubt is a solid drama that will keep you guessing, holds your interest, and contains some of the finer performances of the year. A solid turn by all three leads in the film solidify this battle over the emotion the film is named after, and makes you think about its characters and the film even once you left the theater, a rare feet in film today. See it for the performances, or if you are a fan of the stage. Three of the best actors working today are on full display here and if you want to be up to speed on Oscar night, this is one you shouldn’t miss as this film might garner 4 nominations on acting alone; definitely recommended.