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Doubt
Genre Drama
Year: 2008
 
Review:
Doubt starts off like a bad joke… the priest, altar boys, nuns and Catholic school have become a regular resource for comedians. It’s even more surprising that Doubt draws laughter from its audience, despite the subject matter. However, Doubt isn’t a comedy like Sister Act or Nuns on the Run, it’s more in line with Deliver Us From Evil, Amy Berg’s unflinching documentary and confession of Oliver O’Grady. Doubt tackles issues that confront the Catholic Church, by playing into stereotypes and using them against the audience. This keeps the mystery from unfolding too quickly, and writer-director John Patrick Shanley creates a taut atmosphere with whispered accusations, soft evidence and unlevel framing.

The script is translated from Shanley’s play, and Philip Seymour Hoffman enjoys his third stage-related piece after The Savages and Synedoche, New York. He supports a by-the-book performance from Meryl Streep together with Amy Adams, who is almost unrecognisable in her habit. While Viola Davis comes in late to give Meryl Streep a run for her money as Mrs. Miller. The film raises some contentious issues that seek to address problems that have persisted for centuries. “There’s nothing new under the Sun” and Father Brendan Flynn becomes the prime suspect of an in-house investigation, led by Sister Aloysius Beauvier and Sister James.

The fiery script and lead performances by Streep, Hoffman and Adams are what keep Doubt alive. The film transcends today’s irreverent stereotypes and jokes to get to the heart of the drama, and Doubt makes an excellent adaptation to screen. Most stage plays keep the small, locked-in atmosphere of a limited stage space, but Doubt’s expansive meanderings make the environment and drama seem more natural. The characters are well-developed and the relational dynamics are interesting and bipolar. The themes of religion, morality and authority jab at the Church, questioning patriarchal sanctity, the status of the “lowly” nun and the protection of the truth.

This is a gripping film that grapples with Doubt in its many forms. The characters hold Doubt about their suspicions, their beliefs and their faith, while the audience is cast in the deep end… waiting for the mystery to unfurl. John Patrick Shanley’s directorial debut, Joe Versus the Volcano, is wiped clean off the slate in awe of his latest offering. The only doubt this reviewer expresses, is the short, sharp bursts of comedy, which seem unintentional. These comic licks break the tension of the narrative, which alleviate the heavy thematic content. However, these lulls are overlapped by great performances. If you want to see stereotypes shattered, see Doubt… it’ll definitely leave some room for it the next time you see a Catholic priest and an altar boy in the same frame.

The bottom line: Powerful.

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