Wednesday, February 1, 2012

100 Movies - No. 32: Doubt

32. Doubt (2008)
Drama, 104 minutes
Directed by John Patrick Shanley
Starring Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Viola Davis

Here's a film that I never expected to watch. The trailer looks boring and depressing and the subject matter isn't something that I would expect to hold my attention.

I was wrong.

The screenplay provides the foundation for a great film, and I don't use that word lightly, but what really elevates Doubt is the superb performances from the cast. Meryl Streep is utterly convincing as Sister Aloysius Beauvier. I can't imagine anyone else in the role. The students must have been terrified of her. My school had someone just like that. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a very convincing priest. When the two finally clash in a war of words, it's one of the most breathtaking confrontations I have ever seen. Amy Adams has never been better and I wish she would choose to do more serious roles. Viola Davis made a brief appearance, but I will never forget it.

I'm tempted to say that Streep was robbed of another Oscar, but Kate Winslet was brilliant in The Reader. Hoffman was never going to eclipse Heath Ledger, but his performance shouldn't be forgotten.

Doubt is all about the dialogue. It's also subtle. We are never told the complete truth and it's left up to us to decide whether Father Flynn (Hoffman) is guilty or innocent. This is writing at its best. The other thing that is perfectly depicted is the setting. I felt as if I had been transported back to the 1960s.

This is the kind of film that makes you want to find out more about the actors. I found myself seeking out other work by the cast. Have you seen the film? If you have, did you think Father Flynn was guilty or innocent?

If you like Doubt:

One film that I always associate with Doubt is something released in the same year. Politics is another topic that I generally find boring, but Frost/Nixon is an exception. Like Doubt, it's driven almost entirely by dialogue. I remember watching David Frost when I was a child and Michael Sheen captured his style perfectly. Frank Langella also was terrific as Nixon.

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