Doubt
All I’m saying is that you could show a little ankle and God would forgive you.

Theatrical Release Date: 12/19/2008
Director: John Patrick Shanley
Cast: Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Viola Davis, Joseph Foster

Based on his own Tony award winning stage play, writer/director John Patrick Shanley delivers “Doubt”. The story of a Catholic school head nun who believes one of the priests has sexually abused one of the students, the film’s intent is to play with the concepts of doubt and certainty, faith and belief.

In its favor, the film boasts the considerable acting talents of Meryl Streep, Patrick Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams. All three deliver strong performances and it will come of little surprise to see them nominated for multiple awards in the coming months.

Having just reviewed “Mamma Mia!“, it was especially fun to see Streep’s character here because it was both so different and so alike. While there was a lightness and whimsy to her character in “Mamma Mia!”, there was also a sense of conviction and a longing to make amends for her past. We do not discover many details about why Streep chose to join the sisterhood but it’s made clear that she’s hoping to find some sort of redemption or closure.

Hoffman is equally as brilliant in his performance, shading his character with nearly equal amounts of kindness and weakness. The whole point to the film is whether his character did indeed act inappropriately with one of the students. As the film progresses, one must choose whether to believe Streep or Hoffman, as both make cases based more so on faith and strength of character than provable fact.

Amy Adams plays one of the nuns, in whose class the boy in question attends. She brings the possibility of the abuse to Streep’s attention and is caught in the middle of the investigation. Like her characters in “Junebug” and Enchanted“, she wants to believe in the best of people, practically to a delusional point. She would prefer to be wrong about everything and have her world return to normal and even her outward conviction of what she beleives did or didn’t happen is left to interpretation.

Okay, I’ve said all the kind words I can muster up – now for the bad part. I don’t think the film worked as the stage play must have, and this isn’t necessarily because I felt like I was watching a play crudely adapted for the screen. The entire film methodically builds to a confrontation between Streep and Hoffman. It is in those words that the audience will decide what happened.

The point appears to be that you will land on one side – either he did it or he didn’t. I thought the answer, as presented by the film, was painfully obvious. The actions and words used by Streep and Hoffman leave me certain as to my perception of the events. Like a logic puzzle, if one person does this, it must mean the other will do that. It was like a “Law & Order” episode as you find out the details in the last discussion between the DA and the accused. In talking with Elizabeth Edgemont, she put forth the case for the other side of the argument.

That’s good, right? That means the film did its job? Well, the bigger problem is that while I found the conclusion to be obvious, even if she did not, the project as a whole never grabbed either of our attentions. As good as the acting performances are, nothing in the film created a great spark of interest.

Perhaps providing the straw that broke the camel’s back is that I felt the film didn’t end when it should have. There was a point at which everything was left in doubt (pun intended) … and then the film charged right through and scrounged up another 15 minutes of runtime. In that time, the point was to create further doubt because of one of the character’s admissions of doubt. However, it seemed to come out of nowhere and I thought it only weakened that actor’s performance – being so out of tune with the rest of the film. Maybe other people saw this blow up coming, and I can see how it was festering, but it should never have come to a head based on how the character had acted up until that point.

Sadly, I just have to say that I was disappointed in the overall result and can only give “Doubt” a 3 out of 5. The acting is excellent, some of the best of the year … but the unengaging manner in which the film progressed and overwrought conclusion left me feeling unappreciative. I’m sure other people will disagree – about the film’s effectiveness and about the Priest’s culpability. Unfortunately, I’m not really interested in the film enough to bother with arguing about it … and that should say something in and of itself.