Film review: Doubt (2008), written and directed by John Patrick Shanley
Based on a play by John Patrick Shanley – who also wrote and directed the film – Doubt is about a Catholic school in mid-1960s New York. It’s headed by the strict, no-nonsense nun Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep), who advises her fellow teachers to keep an eye out for any strange behaviour from the priest, Father Brendan Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Why? He held a sermon about doubt, and she thought that was peculiar.
Young and naive Sister James (Amy Adams) starts noticing some things about Father Flynn and the school’s only black student, Donald Miller (Joseph Foster), and reports it to Sister Aloysius. The priest swears he’s just looking out for the kid, and that there’s no funny business going on. He’s just being a friend.
Or is he?
Also stars Viola Davis as Mrs Miller, who strangely enough doesn’t seem to care that much about what happens to her son – him graduating is the most important thing of all.
The thing about Doubt, aside from being insanely well-acted, is that you can never be too sure what’s going on and who’s telling the truth. Is Sister Aloysius just a crusty old hag or does she actually have a heart? Is Father Flynn just a nice bloke who takes an interest in kids and wants to be a friend or is he in fact just grooming them so he can have his wicked ways with them? That up until the very end, you can’t be too sure – and indeed, even the end is on the ambiguous side – makes you question your own morals and preconceptions.
We don’t get to see much of Donald, as the plot focuses more on Sisters Aloysius and James and Father Flynn, but he does a great job. They all do. In fact, all three major characters as well as Donald’s mum got Oscar nominations, as did the director (Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay), and that wasn’t the only award the film got nominated for, or won. There were a fair few, and with good reason. It’s a very good film, better than expected, even if it’s not exactly action-packed and nor a lot of things actually happen.
But as marks goes, it’s perhaps not the sort of film that would have me stand up and applaud, so while remarkable for its acting and even though it’s a great achievement, I hesitate to give it a 5/5 because it’s not the sort of film I’d rush to see again, or even get the DVD of.
4.5 out of 5 vests.