Release Date: April 7, 2009
Own it on Blu-ray and DVD
Director: John Patrick Shanley
Writer: John Patrick Shanley
Stars: Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Viola Davis
MPAA Rating: PG-13
“Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty.”
– Father Brendan Flynn, Doubt
Doubt is perhaps one of the most aptly named films in recent memory.
It’s the story of a Catholic nun, Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep), who begins to suspect that a priest, Father Brendan Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman), is molesting a child at Saint Nicholas Church School. While Sister Aloysius doubts Father Flynn’s reasons for taking a special interest in one particular student at the school, Sister James (Amy Adams), the boy’s teachers, has doubts about Sister Aloysius’ allegations. We, as the viewers, are left with doubts as well, as the story is fairly ambiguous and leaves plenty of room for interpretation.
The story is set in 1964 in New York City and the boy in question is the first African American student at Saint Nicholas Church School. The boy, Donald Miller (Joseph Foster II), feels alienated from his fellow students, but Father Flynn takes him under his wing and mentors him. One day, Father Flynn calls Donald to his office to talk and when the child returns, his teacher, Sister James, believes he’s acting strange and smells alcohol on his breath, so she reports it to the principal, Sister Aloysius.
Sister Aloysius suspects that Father Flynn gave him the alcohol and engaged in illicit activities with Donald, but Father Flynn claims that he caught the boy drinking the sacred wine and called him in his office to deal with Donald quietly, so that he could keep him from being fired as an alter boys. Sister Aloysius is never given any concrete evidence of an indiscretion, but she is nonetheless convinced and does everything she can to get the priest removed.
As you would expect, Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman are both phenomenal in this movie. Streep has the role of a no-nonsense nun down to perfection and it’s fun to watch the children tense up whenever she enters a room. Streep still manages to make Sister Aloysius likeable, which is not an easy task, but is vital to the success of the film. Likewise, Hoffman makes you like Father Flynn and he does a great job keeping the character ambivalent, so that you are never quite sure whether his relationship with Donald Miller is innocent or not. Father Flynn is also shown to have a few vices in the film, including a sweet-tooth and a smoking habit, which adds another interesting level to his character.
The supporting cast also excels in this film. Amy Adams does a phenomenal job conveying the sweetness and innocence of Sister James. She is the good cop to Sister Aloysius’ bad cop and it’s interesting to watch their relationship unfold in the film. Viola Davis, who plays Donald Miller’s mother, only has one scene in the film, but she completely owns that scene. Mrs. Miller is a fascinating and nuanced character and Davis’ performance really stuck after the film was over. It’s rare that you feel like you truly know a character after only one scene, but Davis pulls it off in this film.
Writer/director John Patrick Shanley did a great job with the film as well. Shanley wrote the original Tony Award-winning play that Doubt was adapted from and he did an excellent job converting it from the stage to film. There were a few times where he tilted the camera at strange angles, which came across as distracting rather than artistic, but for the most part his directing is great and the screenplay is very well done. Shanley has also managed to create a very believable and interesting world that these characters inhabit, which looks phenomenal on Blu-ray. The New York street scenes look especially rich.
The Blu-ray disc also comes with a variety of extras, including commentary by Shanley, a featurette on the musical score and an interesting look at the history of the Sisters of Charity, featuring interviews with actual nuns. However, the two most interesting featurettes are “Doubt: From Stage to Screen” and “The Cast of Doubt.”
“From Stage to Screen” is a bit of a misleading title since, while the 20-minute featurette does talk about Shanley’s work converting the film from a stage play, overall it’s more of a general behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film. A majority of the featurette involves Shanley interviewing Streep about the film, which is a wise move, since Steep usually has something interesting to say. Shanley also talks about his experiences attending a catholic school and the real-life Sister James, who was actually a technical advisor on the film.
“The Cast of Doubt” is a sit-down interview conducted by EW.com with Streep, Hoffman, Adams and Davis. The interview is worth checking out, but Streep and Davis tend to dominate the conversation a bit too much (and even though, as I mentioned above, Streep usually has something interesting to say, it still would have been nice to hear more from the other two actors, who are a bit too timid in the group setting). If nothing else, the interview is worth watching just to see the crazy mountain man beard Hoffman is sporting in it.
Overall, Doubt is a film worth watching and the features included with the film do add some insight into the world of Catholic nuns and Shanley’s motivations for writing the play and ultimately making the film. While the subject matter is controversial, there is more to this movie than just the “did he or didn’t he?” question hanging over Hoffman’s character. Shanley has created such a detailed world and the nun’s are such compelling characters that you become emotionally invested in their lives and after the story is over, are left wanting more. For that reason alone, I highly recommend picking up a copy of the film.
Written by Joel Murphy. Doubt is available now on Blu-ray and DVD.