July 16, 2010

Doubt (2008) by John Patrick Shanley

Director: John Patrick Shanley
Cast Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Viola Davis
Writer: John Patrick Shanley (screenplay and play)
Music: Howard Shore
Production USA, 2008
Runtime:104 min

Welcome back to Film Focus tonight I will take a look at “Doubt” a very interesting movie that will raise more questions than answers. The film is an adaptation of John Patrick Shanley´s fictional stage play called “Doubt: A parable”, winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The movie is directed by Shanley and was nominated for five Oscar in the 2009 Academy Awards. Throughout the review, I will try to be as objective as I can, since the topic exposed in the movie is very controversial. Afterwards I will give my opinion on such topic.

The film is set in 1964 at a Catholic Church in the Bronx, New York, where Father Flynn (Philip Saymour Hoffman) is giving a sermon on the nature of doubt. Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep), a very strict and devoted school principal start to suspect from Father Flynn´s unusual topic during the mass. Therefore, that evening she instructed the other nuns to keep an eye on Father Flynn. Soon after, Sister James (Amy Adams) a young and naïve teacher starts to observe the closeness between Father Flynn and Donald Miller, the school´s only black student and altar boy. One day, after Donald returned from a meeting with Father Flynn, she notices that Donald is distraught and his breath smell like alcohol. Later, while the students were learning how to dance, she sees Father Flynn placing something in Donald´s locker. Alarm by the unusual behavior she reveals the situation to Sister Aloysius.

Under the pretext of discussing something else, Sister Aloysius and Sister James confront Father Flynn with their suspicious, implying that his relationship with the boy maybe inappropriate. Initially Father Flynn asks them to leave the matter alone as it´s a private issue between the boy and himself. However, Sister Aloysius demanded a reasonable explanation. Father Flynn tries to explain that he discovered Donald drinking altar wine and he had promised Donald not to tell anyone because if anybody knows he would have to expel him from being an altar boy. Now that the truth was revealed, he would have to dismiss Donald as an altar boy. He also let them know he is displeased in the way Sister Aloysius handle this situation. Sister James appears to believe in Father Flynn´s innocence but Sister Aloysius suspects that he is hiding something, so she decides to meet with Donald´s mother to reveal her suspicious.

Mrs. Miller (Viola Davis) shock Sister Aloysius by stating that she must not pressure the matter further, since this is the last year of Donald before he attempt high school. Mrs. Miller also hints at Donald´s homosexuality and reveals that his father is physically abusive towards him due to his condition. She begs to let the matter alone and to rationalize Donald´s relationship with Father Flynn.

With no evidence and no support, Sister Aloysius confronts Father Flynn once again. She tells him that she contacted a nun in his last parish and she told her why Father Flynn left the parish, confirming her suspicious. Father Flynn is furious because Aloysius had broken the church protocol; she was supposed to contact the church pastor, not a nun. Finally, Flynn accepts to resign his job at the church and he is moved to another Parish. After Father Flynn, left the church Aloysius tells Sister James that she lied about speaking to a nun at Father Flynn´s former church and thus never found hard evidence against him. Sister Aloysius revels to Sister James that now she has doubts about what she have done since she never got to the truth.

The movie does a great job in showing the different perspectives from all the characters, one particular aspect is that it doesn’t show in detail the relationship between Donald and Father Flynn instead we only see fragments where Flynn is helping the boy against bullies. This results in a very objective view so the audience can draw their own conclusion. The movie also exposed the two different worlds in the church. The Nuns who live more attached to the rules (at dinner they only drink milk and they don’t talk) and on the other hand we have the Fathers who are less orthodox (they drink wine, tells jokes and eat raw meat at dinner).

The performances of the actors are remarkable and because it´s an adaptation of a stage play the characters and the plot are well written and developed.
Philip Saymour Hoffman shows once again that he can do any character, this is an actor that doesn’t get big roles but even when he plays small parts you can expect a great performance. In “Doubt”, he is able to portrait this good and caring Father, but maybe because he cares to much this gets him into trouble. In addition, he is hiding something from his past.
Meryl Streep does a great job in playing this old, bitter, stricter nun, that want to find out what´s going on without considering the consequences. It´s a similar character played in “The Devil wears Prada”. The scenes where Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn discuss are remarkable, both actors manage to keep the tension and we got the idea that this characters doesn´t like each other long before the situation with Donald.
As for Amy Adams, I really didn’t see much of her, but in this movie her character is not easy to portrait as she is in the middle of the storm and she must cope with both since Sister Aloysius in the head nun and Father Flynn is the pastor of the church.
It would be unfair not to mention the great performance of Viola Davis, Donald´s mother, she only appears in two scenes but she is so important to understand the relationship between Donald and Father Flynn. Davis portrait a mother that has a complicated situation where her sun is homosexual and her husband beat him and she is trying to keep everything together until his sun gets to high school.

In my opinion, I don’t think the aim of the movie is to establish if Father Flynn is guilty or not, I think the issue here goes beyond that. The proper issue here is how far we can go to obtain the truth and if we discover that we are wrong, Can we fix the damage we did? I want to finish with a line from the movie that rather summarized my thoughts, “in the pursuit of wrongdoing one steps away from God”.
Well that all for tonight, for the next review I got a French movie called Amélie (Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain). So as always thanks for the time, comment if you like, have a good night.
By Sebastián Nadilo

Trailer: Doubt (2008)
Music: Doubt by Howard Shore

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