Doubt, a 2008 oft-awarded film, is simple in structure, but not simple in theme. It’s a very mature film, one that requires the viewer to watch and watch closely, as the dialogue is what drives the film.
It took me awhile to see this movie, and I’m surprised that it did. I usually rush out to see these Oscar-baity films but in this case I’m glad I waited. I don’t think a theater experience is needed for this film, and I actually think it probably plays better on a smaller scale.
Starting off, what can I say about Phillip Seymour Hoffman that hasn’t already been said? The guy is fantastic in every movie he’s been in. He has this charisma that makes you want to watch him on screen, and it’s a valuable tool for an actor to have. Granted PSH is never going to be voted People’s Sexiest Man Alive, but he is easily near the top of the Best Actors Alive list. His performance here as Father Flynn is amazingly complex, and PSH plays it like a brilliant slight-of-hand magician.
You start off the film liking him and what he brings to the parish, and then you’re given this little seed of DOUBT. Trust me, the title of the film is perfectly apt for each of the three main characters. With Father Flynn, you are never quite sure if he’s telling the truth about the accusations that have been brought upon him, but you really hope they are false. And Hoffman plays it so that you are actually sort of cheering for him in his struggle against Meryl Streep’s character, just hoping that she’s wrong and he’s being honest.
Streep is a great actress, and she blends into this role shockingly well. She plays a mean, old-school Sister/Principal, and you can tell from the first moment she’s on screen that her character has spent a lot of time carefully crafting her reputation as a tough cookie among her peers and the students at the school. She makes no excuses for anything, and likes things the way they are. She does not approve of the changes Father Flynn is trying to bring to the church and to the school. The doubt with her character seemed to be that the viewer never truly knows her true motivation. She’s trying to protect the school and the church, but why? Is it because she fears change, or just really agrees with the way things are done?
Amy Adams plays the innocent young Sister/Teacher. As the movie starts, she is doe-eyed and innocent, and once she takes the accusation to Streep, she gets in deep. Much deeper than she thought, as Streep runs with these accusations until she finds the truth. Adams clearly respects Father Flynn and wants to find him innocent, and when Flynn tells his story she is quick to accept and to forgive him. She’s truly caught in the middle of these two as they battle between the truth and their own versions of it.
I was aware going in that the movie is based on a play, written for the screen and directed by the same guy, and it’s pretty easy to detect. The film doesn’t have any throwaway quick scenes. They’re all longer scenes that take place within the same settings. I’m sure some has been added from the play, and I’m sure some was cut. Overall, the director does a very good job with a “less is more” approach, and the long scenes full of dialogue actually don’t really bog the film down.
My one major criticism is that there is a lot of stuff that is either never explained, explained poorly, or left up to the viewer to infer. And with a film with subject matter this volatile, it’s probably not the best idea to let every person decide a lot of little details. There are a number of examples. Is Father Flynn actually guilty of misconduct with this student? What’s the deal with Jimmy? They always show him sitting solemnly, quietly, dejected, and then he has a meltdown, but why? What point does that serve? Amy Adams’ character’s sick brother? What about that? It’s mentioned, but why is it important? And, my god, the fingernails? I didn’t get why it was such a focal point.
It’s a solid film all around, definitely worth seeing for the three lead performances. But it’s not a movie without flaws. It’s almost frustrating at the end that there are so many loose ends. I don’t believe there actually are that many loose ends, but on a first watch, I guess I missed a lot that the writer/director intended me to understand.
- Simplicity in scenesVery engaging
- Very dry and talky, and you are probably going to miss something no matter how close attention you pay
- Very assuming. Some, if not most, viewers aren’t going to be familiar with this world. And we aren’t exactly introduced.
- Too many questions not clearly answered