Of all the 2009 Oscar-nominated films I’ve seen so far, Doubt is one lacking in cinematic audacity that could have been mistaken for a low budget. The film, however, boasts of two of the finest actors there can be – [The] Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Without Streep and Hoffman backed by the surprising yet excellent performance of Amy Adams and the understated yet stirring one-scene acting of Viola Davis, the whole movie is a bore and I could have snored in the first twenty minutes.
Doubt, a movie adaptation of the Pulitzer prize winning play of the same title written by John Patrick Shanley (also the writer and director of the film), is set in 1964 Bronx at a time when the Catholic Church is undergoing reformation under the leadership of Pope John Paul II. As the Church is gearing itself for and being with the times allowing itself to be more progressive and even more compassionate, Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Streep) governs a parochial school with strict rules and a stern face . On the other hand, there is Father Brendan Flynn (Hoffman) who, true to the mandate of his superiors, tries to befriend and made himself available to everyone including the school children.
Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn don’t see each other eye to eye. The situation was exacerbated by the intensifying closeness between the priest and the first black student the school has accepted, Donald Miller. Donald serves as an altar boy for Father Flynn. The controversy started when the priest summoned the boy to the rectory in the middle of the class of Sister James (Adams). The boy later went back to his class feeling agog and smelling of alcohol as Sister James had narrated to Sister Aloysius. Moreso, Sister James saw Father Flynn lodging Miller’s undershirt in one of the lockers.
The circumstances surrounding the priest and the black school boy seemed to have vindicated the rather sour feeling of Sister Aloysius towards Father Flynn. The whole situation was converted to a suspicion that the priest is actually making [sexual] advances to the boy and the nun to further investigate the matter. The two nuns, Sisters Aloysius and James, confronted Father Flynn about the situation with Donald Miller and asked about what actually happened. Feeling uncomfortable and embarrassed, the priest explained that he summoned the boy since he drank the mass wine in the rectory. Unconvinced of the explanation of the priest and that she is right about her suspicions even without a single proof, Sister Aloysius vowed to kick out the priest from the parish no matter what it takes even with the disagreeing lament of Sister James.
Determined as she is with her resolve, Sister Aloysius went on with her crusade and summoned the mother of the boy, Mrs. Miller (Davis). But still, there’s practically nothing that the nun has drawn out from the boy’s mother regarding the situation. All she got from the mother was a request to let go of the boy from blame and do whatever she can for the boy’s welfare just like a mother would. After that stirring talk between the nun and the mother of the boy, the priest confronted back Sister Aloysius and engaged in a heated debate.
Again, the actors are excellent in this film and it would be so lifeless if not for them. Streep is at her best once more after proving to everybody that she can sing, dance and act at the same time. Hoffman is equally at his best matching the emotions of Streep. Adams’ performance is a complete departure from her famous Enchanted role.
Other than the actors, the moral issues tackled in the movie are also very interesting and thought-provoking. Allegories and metaphors (usually effective only with stage plays) were widely used in the movie and every scene will change your perspective of the issues. Those who would watch this film will surely come out still scratching their heads and would find themselves still wondering whether the priest is guilty or not. The last scene where Sister Aloysius drops down her guards also offered another perspective to the character of the stern nun.
Would you be convinced?