Sunday, September 25, 2011

Film review: "Doubt" (2008)

I thought I'd review this film tonight because I'm very cyclical with films depending on the season, and since the autumnal equinox took place about 66 hours ago, I'm reviewing a film that very much reminds me of fall. Doubt, written (and ultimately directed) by John Patrick Shanley, was originally scripted for the stage, as are so many films. Meryl plays Sr. Aloysious Beauvier, a principal and nun at a Catholic parish in the Bronx, New York in 1964. This setting is rather familiar to me, as I was raised in a predominately Catholic town, went to Catholic school from first to twelfth grade, was an altar boy and in fact had a couple of nuns as teachers in high school.

Of course things were certainly different in 1964 compared to the mid 1990's, but for the most part, the teachings and expectation in regard to the religion as it relates to one's actions remain the same. I feel Meryl's sensitive understanding of this helped her to portray a woman who, although initially a bit unlikeable and perhaps intimidating, manages to keep us (me) in her corner. I know from interviews that she spent a good amount of time with the Sisters of Charity developing an authentic persona. Yes, she pulls off the Bronx accent with near perfection, but far more interesting is her character's struggle to balance the tendency to always be in control with having to be subordinate at times to the parish priest.

Sr. Aloysius learns from Sr. James (played by Amy Adams in an Oscar nominated performance) that Fr. Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman, also nominated) may have made sexual advances toward a young boy in the school. We never really get any concrete evidence of this, hence the name of the play/film, but the movie essentially continues with Sr. Aloysius on a witch hunt to bring down Fr. Flynn.

I watched parts of this film this morning and remarked to Joe that I just still can't get over how different the characters Meryl plays are and how convincing she continues to be. She becomes a different person, which seems so clichè and repetitive, but I don't know how else to describe it. Completely entertaining and very impressive. Viola Davis plays the mother of the boy in question (yes, that Viola Davis). She too was nominated for an Academy Award, deservedly, and shined in a couple of very compelling scenes alongside Meryl.

The climax of the film comes when Fr. Flynn decides to confront Sr. Aloysius on her accusations. The following scene was a big factor in why Meryl came close to winning her third Oscar:

Great stuff. She's strong and tragic at the same time. Trying to hold on so tightly to a way of life she sees slowly slipping away, hoping to find some control of the oncoming chaos. I like the bit of sarcastic humor she provides particularly at the end of this scene. Meryl of course received her 15h Academy Award nomination and won the Screen Actor's Guild award for actress in a leading role. Interestingly, the winner of the Oscar that year, Kate Winslet, won for The Reader, a film that she won the Golden Globe and SAG award for actress in a supporting role. Her production company was content with campaigning her role in Revolutionary Road as lead. Why not, as she won the Golden Globe for it (and for Reader in supporting). She eventually was nominated as lead in The Reader and won the Oscar. So political.

Regardless, a great role and a great movie. Brava, Meryl.


  1. I feel like I watched it 2.5 times over the past few days because I stayed up to watch when you fell asleep but I really do like this movie. It is a tour de force of American actors, PSH, Amy Adams, Viola Davis, the woman from Ace Venture and Meryl.

    I'm surprised you didn't mention what Shanley said about Meryl in the director's commentary.

  2. I thought about mentioning the comment, but I hope to add a section at some point of quotes about Meryl or reviews of directors' commentaries and already feel like I'll be redundant when I discuss the Kate Winslet thing in future Academy Awards analysis.

  3. what happend with kate last year could happend with Glenn close this year, if you know what i mean guys...
    kate was nominated like soo many time and the Academy felt that they have to recogbise her talent and work soo they gave her the oscar, that could happend againg this year, gleen have been nominated 5 times, and maybe this time she could win....anyway sorry i was a littel of topic,
    speaking about the movie as you'v said Jeff it will sound clichè and repetitive if one said that Meryl was totaly convincing and still manage to become a different persone, but you know what that's just the truth, without forgetting the overall cast ( Amy,Viola and Philip) it's almost soo rare when you can have soo many talanted actors in the same movie....