Doubt is a film to be respected.
Heading full on into precarious themes, set in the face of change in 1960’s post JFK America Director John Patrick Shanley’s play is adapted perfectly to the screen to fully convey every subtlety of its small one word title.
No matter how small a title, Doubt tackles massive themes where at first such a small lack of trust on the surface, peels away at deeper levels of unwarranted prejudice and damaging accusations.
The curtain is raised on Shanley’s play (because it is a play captured on screen – brilliantly) with Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Father Flynn, presenting his first cryptic sermon to the masses of his New York parish, a teaching about doubt that later arouses the suspicions of Sister Beauvier (Meryl Streep).
And when Flynn’s ambiguous relationship with the schools only black student, Donald, is questioned, the unyielding Nun is convinced of wrong doing, enlisting the reluctant prying of Sister James (Amy Adams).
Doubt’s brilliance is its subtlety in casting uncertainty to make an audience question, rethink and assign guilt, shifting back and forth throughout, with seeds of distrust planted about all, but most prominently, when Flynn’s caring instincts are perhaps compromised into something more predatory. Hoffman excels yet again, with elusive nuances convincing of innocence and of guilt in equal measure.
But not all can be deemed righteous when prejudice pertains to a faith in a belief that convinces of guilt; Sister Beauvier, Streep again mesmeric, personifies the suffocation of predisposition, entrenched in old methods, distrusting of men – specifically priests and a more engaging and compassionate church.
Amy Adams’ naïve apprentice is conflicted the most, approving of Flynn’s new methods to educate and move towards engagement from chastisement but unable to ignore doubts and flimsy evidence, all while subjected to Streep’s iron will.
Doubt develops to remove the shroud of virtue on all, delving down to reveal failings even in the most virtuous; none are really without weakness, a significant theme pressed home to cement the suspicion that even the most respected institutions are not completely upright.
While all of this is set to the metaphoric and literal leaf whipping wind of change of 1964 America, itself in doubt after the death of Kennedy, Shanley’s limited stage show manages to present the wider picture of a still largely prejudice nation; Donald’s mother, Mrs. Miller (Viola Davis) entering to reveal the complications still faced for her family in a changing time, in an impossible situation while Sister Beauvier shows seldom seen genuine care, one of Doubt’s most moving and revealing passages.
Most is exposed in Flynn’s and Beauvier’s conflict, where opposing ideals clash, with Hoffman and Streep yet again delivering supreme dialogue and compelling performances.
As with many play adaptations, Doubt never wanders too far, its dull brick residential high-rises enclose the tight church stage for on screen developments with economical direction allowing words and performance to flourish.
Watch Doubt and respect not only brilliant acting and screenplay, but the subtle tackling of themes, all while paying audiences respect enough to deliver revelations, and intelligently, little sufficient to sit in conclusive final judgement.