- Rated R
- Buy the BD
All photos © Walt Disney
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
o say that there’s no such thing as Oscar bait would be to admit that John Patrick Shanley’s “Doubt” doesn’t exist. This is a film that doesn’t just expect its share of the spoils come awards season, but practically demands them. Of course, when you have Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman going toe-to-toe for most of the film, it’s easy to see why their respective nominations would appear to be a lock. Still, despite strong performances from both actors, “Doubt” never really achieves anything beyond serving as the backdrop for a series of electrifying face-offs between its contrasting lead characters.
Adapted from Shanley’s stage play of the same name, the film stars Meryl Streep as Sister Aloysius Beauvier, principal of St. Nicholas Catholic School located in the Bronx. Perfectly content with living in the Dark Ages (she strongly opposes secular music, considers cough drops a form of candy, and forbids the use of ballpoint pens), Sister Aloysius takes particular issue with the church’s priest, Father Brendan Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman). While she strives to make the environment around her as miserable as possible, Father Flynn is both passionate and accepting of the changing times. So when one of Aloysius’ teachers, Sister Mary James (Amy Adams), brings to her attention that the liberal priest may have formed an inappropriate relationship with the school’s first black student (Joseph Foster), she’s more than willing to mount a crusade to have him thrown out of the parish with little evidence other than her unwavering doubt.
For a movie about child molestation in the Catholic Church, “Doubt” does a mighty good job of handling the material tastefully. It’s only been a few years since those scandals turned priesthood into a punching bag for desperate comics, but Shanley’s script is wise to refrain from any heavy-handed commentary. It’s only mentioned a couple of times, and though you never find out the truth behind what really happened, it’s pretty much spelled out in the end. By that time, however, the audience has already taken sides, and no matter how convincing Sister Aloysius is in her unproven accusations, Father Flynn still doesn’t look very guilty. There are just so many different explanations as to why he might have had such a relationship with the student that it seems unfair to judge, and those that do have allowed their previous knowledge of the 21st century scandals to mar their view.
That inconclusiveness is ultimately the film’s biggest downfall, because even though some might argue that it’s the point of the story (the movie is, after all, called “Doubt”), if Shanley has something to say on the subject, why doesn’t he just say it? The film builds to this tension-filled finale between Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn, but instead of any real resolution, all the audience gets is the same push-and-pull discussion they just heard 20 minutes ago. Great acting a good movie does not make, and though there’s not a single weak link in the group, (including Viola Davis, who's phenomenal in an extended scene as the black student’s mother), “Doubt” fails to deliver a story as engaging as the actors in charge of telling it.
Single-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
Though it’s not exactly the kind of movie you’d suggest to someone thinking about upgrading to Blu-ray, the single-disc release of “Doubt” is surprisingly good. Along with an audio commentary by writer/director John Patrick Shanley featuring a mix of production info and history about the period, the extras also include a making-of featurette (“From Stage to Screen”), an interview with the cast moderated by Entertainment Weekly’s Dave Karger, and a brief chat withmsome of the real-life Sisters of Charity. Regrettably, there are no Blu-ray exclusives, but the fact that Miramax was able to include this much bonus material is already pretty impressive.