Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Saturday night, I headed down to the Angelika Film Center to see "Doubt," the film adaptation of the Tony Award-winning play of the same name by John Patrick Shanley.

"Doubt" introduces us to two Sisters of Charity of New York who work at a parish school in what looks like an predominantly Irish-American neighborhood in the Bronx. One sister is the school's hard-nosed principal (Meryl Streep) while the other is a kind young teacher (Amy Adams).

The time is late 1964. It's an unsettled time for American Catholics -- a year after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and a year before the implementation of liturgical changes prompted by the Second Vatican Council.

Crisis comes when the sisters suspect a young priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman) of abusing the school's first Black student. The sisters confront the priest, who vehemently denies the allegations.

As multiple reviewers have correctly asserted, Meryl Streep dominates "Doubt." Hoffman and Adams turn in good performances but are eclipsed by Streep's powerful rendering of Sr. Aloysius. Streep's work here is reminiscent of her superb multi-character turn in the HBO version of "Angels in America."

I think Shanley, who also directed "Doubt," does an adequate job of exploring the complex layers that can surround such allegations of abuse. There is one particularly memorable scene in which Sr. Aloysius presents her concerns to the student's mother (Viola Davis). The mother's response shocks both the nun and the audience.

But, I also can't help wondering what "Doubt" would have looked like if Shanley (whose only previous film directing credit is "Joe Versus the Volcano") had left this adaptation in the hands of another director. In many ways, the film did still have the feeling of a play with characters in somewhat static settings (not that there's anything inherently wrong with that).

For a more in-depth review of "Doubt," check out this one by Michael V. Tueth, S.J., at America.

As of this writing, "Doubt" has a 71 percent rating at Rotten Tomatoes. I'd say that's low.

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