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It's awful hard to trust priests these days. With countless scandals involving children people it has got to a stage where almost every dog collar gets viewed upon with an eye of suspicion. Here in Ireland there are still a few old women who think the sun shines out of every priests backside and my own granny is still convinced I should become one. But the truth is that even the nicest of priests get a cold reception when it comes to being in anyway left alone with children.
It has fundamentally changed the way the Catholic Church is viewed. They used to be a bit of a laugh. Just think back to Whoopee Goldberg in Sister Act as opposed to the more recent Magdalene Laundry's film. In some 20 episodes or so of Father Ted at no point is there ever a joke about any of the priests having a thing for kids and I don't think it's because Graham Linehan is above such humour.
In Doubt the Church is painted in the bleak colours it has come to be associated with. The film starts in the heydey of a Catholic School during the autumn with old nuns sealed within their habits running a tight ship of neatly presented Irish and Italian American children. The nuns live under the reign of the principle Sister Aloysius or the dragon as she is referred to in whispers. She surveys the children from her balcony above the playground like Ralph Fiennes' character in the concentration camp in Schindler's List and when one child steps ever so slightly out of line she silences the whole school by calling the boy to her office where he is ominously punished behind closed doors.
She strikes as much fear into her fellow nuns as she does her pupils. Several times in the film we see the nuns stiffly up-right at their quiet meals with Sister Aloysius coldly observing all of them. The only nun to ever really have a voice within Sister Aloysius reign of terror is the mousy and young Sister James. An innocent young woman who seems to fear Sister Aloysius but at the same time wishes to please her just as much. Sister James, however, finds herself in the middle of a conflict in the school as in complete contrast to the conservative old-school Sister Aloysius there is the likeable Father Flynn the pastor of the school. Father Flynn is a great hit with the boys of the school who he teaches how to play basketball and who ask him innocent enough questions about girls at dances. He charms young Sister James by offering her a friendly face and escape from the pristine order of the nunnery, however, Sister James soon finds herself in the middle of a titanic clash between her mentor Sister Aloysius and the charismatic Father Flynn as Sister Aloysius becomes convinced that Father Flynn is interfering with one of the boys at the school.
The film becomes a story of the old meets the new and Sister James confronts Sister Aloysius telling her that she simply hates Father Flynn because he represents progress. He is happy to embrace secular songs at the Christmas show whilst Sister Aloysius considers "Frosty the Snowman" to represent paganism. Father Flynn uses ballpoint pens whilst Sister Aloysius reprimands children for writing like monkeys when they use them. With this notion of a reluctant changing of the guard it becomes hard to believe Sister Aloysius' accusations. Maybe she is simply too afraid to let go of the old-school and is doing anything to stop her school embracing progress. When it appears that the young boy in question seems to be very fond of Father Flynn I started to think of her all the more as the old witch just stirring the pot. We doubt her just as much as we doubt Father Flynn and doubt exactly what the often too naive Sister James thinks she saw. Father Flynn himself starts the film with sermon on doubt. What do you do when you don't know exactly what's happening when you can't be sure ? What's is the right thing to do? The film surrounds this dilemma of what is right and is the right thing in the end sometimes tainted with wrongful acts and how does one act when riddled with doubt.
This film is an accomplishment in storytelling and acting. It started life as a play by John Patrick Shanley who directed the film. As film from a play it still relies on strong character performances. Very little action happens in the film but the script and the real performances keep you gripped throughout. Meryl Streep is barely recognisable as the stern face sticking out of her habit and I usually remember Hoffman as a bit of a lively good-time character from films like Charlie Wilson's War and Before the Devil Knows You're Dead but he was the perfect priest. He reminds me so much of many priests growing up. He had the big Irish priest head on him and his big cheeks and good humour were uncannily apt. The only other real character in the film other than the children who said little and the nuns who spoke not at all was Sister James. Beautiful Amy Adams in real life she just goes to show how ugly a habit can make you in this fil. She's so lovely and innocent throughout the film she's little more of a child herself. She was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Award for her role. Hoffman was nominated for Best Supporting Actor and Streep nominated for Best Actress. Unfortunately no-one went on to win the award. Another achievement of the film and it's actors is it's ability to real challenge your perception of both Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn. Throughout the film Sister Aloysius is trying to do what really all of us would consider to be the right thing but we rail against her whilst we warm to Flynn who is committing the horror of horrors. Even at the end our perceptions of the characters are oddly not what we expect given their actions. It takes great writing and great actors to create such an effect.
My only irk with the film is it's take on child abuse. It suggests a certain amount of complicity on the part of the child that I think many find insulting. Especially all of those who have been victims themselves. Father Flynn is also seen to be the embodiment of progress yet how can we consider such a man to be progress? It worries slightly as to the writers take of the child abuse scandal and their views on paedophilia as a whole. Maybe I'm a little over-sensitive on the issue but my take in things isn't helped any by the fact that Roman Polanski directed a notable presentation of the play in Paris some years ago. Mr Polanski himself being no stranger to similar accusations. I think this is something each viewer need think about himself.
In conclusion it's a great film. A must see and an artistic accomplishment by everyone involved. I would highly recommend it.
Philip Seymour Hoffman does have a big priest head on him
There were an awful lot of protestant looking people in the mass scenes.
Americans are forever drinking milk with their meals in films.
WHO I'd PUNCH
The blind nun. Because I'd definitely get away with it.
Doubt was the latest on my Film List to be ticked off as watched. I added it after seeing how much hype it got at the Oscars, and as I think Meryl Streep is a great actress then it would be a pretty interesting film. I wasn't sure if it was going to be my kind of film, but had some time to spare on the weekend and ended up watching it.
I rented this from Blockbuster, however I have also seen this available in places like HMV and Amazon for around £5. It is rated at a 15, which I think is a decent rating considering the subject matter and all that goes on with it.
It's set in the 1960s, where Meryl Streep plays Sister Aloysius who runs a Catholic school in New York, with support from Father Flynn who is played by Philip Seymour Hoffmann, whose acting I quite enjoyed in this film along with Streep to.
From the beginning of the movie, you can see that Sister Aloysius is having doubts about Father Flynn, as immediately after he makes his sermon, she asks the other nuns that she knows to look out for him and ensure that he isn't doing any suspicious when she is not around. The main thing that sets off her worries is when an altar boy, Donald, returns upset to Sister James class and smelling of alcohol.
This is what sets Sister Aloysius suspicions off, as she is unconvinced by the excuse that Father Flynn gives and believes that he is a predator to the young boy. From this moment on, she sets on removing Father Flynn from his position, to ensure the safety of the other children.
Obviously, with the title of the film Doubt, this is what the film is supposed to be centred around. I did think it went well with the theme, as you could see whether Sister Aloysius was doubting her own thinking and whether she was just being over precautious and how she was torn between what to do.
While I didn't think the plot was that interesting and a bit slow, I did think that the acting was enough to keep me immersed. I wouldn't say it kept me interested as much as I'd like, but the way the characters were portrayed kept me interested enough to know what would happen to them and if something shocking would happen. They managed to portray their characters really well, and I think Streep did a great job at being the cautious nun and Hoffmann as the slightly creepy Father who you want to suspect did something wrong, but just can't work out if he really did.
Overall, I'd say if you like the type of films like this which I suppose require reflection and thinking, then it is for you. However, in my mindset when I watched this film, I was just looking for a normal film and didn't really feel like looking too in-depth at the time, so didn't enjoy it as much as I could. The plotline was a bit slow in my opinion, but I think the acting was well deserving of the hype that they caused.
Star - Meryl Streep & Phillip Seymour Hoffman
Run Time - 104 minutes
Awards - 5 Oscar nominations
Certificate - 15
Country - USA
Genre - Drama
The Catholic Church and pedophilia go together like George Bush and cheap foreign oil, a seedy hidden relationship that seem to hold together on perversion and denial of guilt in equal measures. Whether gay men and sexual deviants (they are often different people) flock to the priesthood to escape feelings for other men and children so to seek redemption, or allowed to develop those feelings in the sanctuary of the church, is open for debate but either way the Catholic Church is a bee's nest of pedophiles. The evidence is irrefutable, 7000 cases plus currently filed against the Vatican. It's believed that one-in-ten American priests are now HIV positive because of the churches secret tolerance for homosexuality. The Bush regime closed ranks and denied their wars were about oil so to perpetuate more conflicts. The Pope and his elder's suppressed widespread abuse in the ranks which allowed hundreds of priest to carry on offending, the justification for both that God never said they couldn't do what they did so it must be ok, right? The God defense that it was temptation forced upon the priest and the devil was tempting them to sin is the standard for both organized religion and American presidents.
The 'Doubt' in question is all about that very same religious deviancy, the trust a Mother Superior (Meryl Streep) has for her priest (Phillip Seymour-Hoffman) and what to do about him if he is abusing children in their church school, a novice nun (Amy Adams) the conflicted conscious of the movie. It's a rapid reuniting for Streep and Adams after their great chemistry in Julie & Julia and poor old Seymour Hoffman yet again typecast in a seedy role.
The film is based on the Pullitzer Prize winning stage play of the same name and written and directed by the same man, John Patrick Shanley, his first film since Joe Versus the Volcano, the Tom Hanks vehicle, probably a good time to stop making films after that one. As I say, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, has yet again been cast as a suspected pedophile, his third film in that role that I can recall and there may be more. He just looks like what we and Hollywood think a pedophile would look like and so cast in those foaming at the mouth roles. What he made of the phone call from Shanley to play this role God only knows, if you excuse the pun.
Shanley based the play on his experiences in a Bronx Catholic school in the 1960s, why he allows the devastating and brave twist that makes this movie really work, writing himself into the play as a young boy to front up as the witness, a script that sticks up for all races and genders though this powerful film that America seemed to enjoy abusing all through the 1060s.
Meryl Streep ... Sister Aloysius Beauvier
Philip Seymour Hoffman ... Father Brendan Flynn
Amy Adams ... Sister James
Viola Davis ... Mrs. Miller
Frank Shanley ....Kevin
Joseph Foster as Donald Miller
Alice Drummond ... Sister Veronica
Audrie Neenan ... Sister Raymond
Susan Blommaert ... Mrs. Carson
Father Brendan Flynn: Even if you feel certainty, it is an emotion not a fact.
Father Brendan Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is having doubts, expressed in his sermon to his faithful flock, Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep), the Bronx catholic schools iron fist Mother Superior, picking up on that. But what is his doubt about?
It becomes clear to Sister Beauvier when she finds out that Flynn has been spending more and more time with the schools first black student, an 11-year old alter boy named Donald Miller (Joseph Foster), a fish very much out of water and so grateful for the Priests guidance and time.
Sister James (Amy Adams), who teaches him history, is assigned by the Mother Superior to keep an eye on both of them, and when her suspicions are confirmed when Sister James reports a suspicious act she moves on Flynn, confronting him in her office after calling in Donald's mum (Viola Davies) in earlier. But it's Flynn's bombastic denial and the surprising conversation the Mother Superior has with Mrs. Miller when they walk together that introduces doubt into her life too, which means she could be wrong, something Sister Aloysius Beauvier rarely has and does.
I really enjoyed this. I don't know what I was expecting, considering the obvious narrative to proceedings, but the fact it was a Pulitzer Prize winning Broadway play I haven't seen suggests it would be the better option to rent it. The dialogue that explores those moral issues of religion and manipulation are strong and the powerplay between Hoffman and Streep a real pleasure to behold, Streep the finest female actress of my generation, two great actors going at it nose-to-nose. It's hard to see how the Academy can ignore her startling impression of Margaret Thatcher now after not giving her the golden statue for this. Hoffman, as I said, just looks and sounds the part in his flowing priestly robes and ambiguous enough throughout the play to not reveal to us his true feelings and suggested actions towards the boy. The peripheral race issue is just that in the film and because of the potency of the decision the little boy's mum makes to keep him at the school, Viola Davies also earned an Oscar nomination, but the excellent black actress in the film for barely ten minutes. Sometimes the writer's braveness of the message makes the performance.
You are kept guessing throughout and the actors enjoy the moral tussle on screen, an involving soundtrack the cement to keep you with the emotion of the piece. For its $20 million budget it only did $29 million back, this type of film a little too smart and involving for dim American audiences in the flyover states. You have to hit those markets hard to for an intelligent film to make any money back there. Saying the church is full of pedophiles is perhaps not the best way though. This is a proper actor's movie guys, dog number four at Milton Keynes with its tongue hanging out chasing Oscars...
The Guardian - "Doubt looks like some sort of upscale horror film, complete with crows and swirling leaves like The Omen. It's actually a terminally muddled piece of star-studded Oscar-bait".
The Times -"A cat-and-mouse game of power and posture, played out by two of the finest actors of the moment".
The NY Times -"An attention-getting bit of drama built on remarkable performances.
Movie News -"Not a cinematic powerhouse, but a good conversation starter"
Imdb.com - 7.6/10.0 (50,967 votes)
Metacritic.com - 68% critics approval rating
Rottentomatos.com - 78% critics approval rating
Radio Times Film Year Book - 3/4
Leonardo Maltin Film Year Book -3/4
Rental - 99p per night@Blockbuster
I have a very extensive list of films added onto my lovefilm subscription for many reasons. Occasionally i feel the need to be more cultured, and i think that is how this film became added to the list as it was nominated for (but didn't recieve) an OSCAR.
Starring Merryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Viola Davis, the quality of acting in this 2008 is a thing to behold. Although the storyline was not really my thing, the actors did hold my attention throughout the whole film, and with a running time of 104 minutes this was no easy feat for me.
Set in 1964, Sister Aloysius (Streep) is the nun in charge of a Catholic school in the Bronx, New York. The school is attached to a church whose priest is Father Flynn (Hoffman). Father Flynn opens the film with a sermon about doubt. This makes Sister Aloysius suspicious of if the Father is in fact having doubt about his own faith. She discusses this with her fellow nuns, the Sisters of Charity of New York, and asks them to keep an eye on the Father and if they see anything to report back to her.
Sister James (Adams) is a very young and naive nun. She has a young black boy in her class, Donald Miller. He is the only black pupil in the whole school, and is also an altar boy. During class one day, Father Flynn asks the boy to go see him, and he returns upset and smelling of alcohol. Sister James reports this incident to Sister Aloysius, and the pair of them set about confronting Father Flynn about his motives.
Although Father Flynn denies any wrong doing, and in fact has a plausible excuse that he caught the boy stealing communion wine, Sister Aloysius remains unconvinced and sets about trying to prove that Flynn is a predator and should be removed from his position of trust.
Although Sister James has doubts about Sister Aloysius's vendetta, she cannot dissuade her from her course of relentless pursuit of Flynn.
Doubt is a really strong theme throughout the film, with many characters questionning their own actions and effects. The characters are so believable because of the strength of the actors, and as said previously, although the topic alone would not have held my attention that long, the actors themselves and how they portrayed these roles did, and i feel the oscar nominations were well deserved.
I think for me, i could appreciate how well written and acted it was, but i just did not find the story that interesting. There seemed such huge prejudices and i found it hard to relate to how the nuns and priests were acting. I don't know if this is because i have little experience of the catholic church, or because i found it hard to relate to attitudes more suited to 1964 America.
Perhaps it was just because it seemed so slow, because basically not a lot happened. A priest is accused of being a paedophile, and he is pursued to try and prevent further harm coming to a child. I could have switched off, and not really cared. I am thinking about it, and for me i would say this is a 3 star film. Not that bad i wish i hadn't seen it, but not that great that i would rush out and recommend it.
If you like intelligent films this is for you, but if you are sitting unwinding on a weekend evening looking for something perhaps a bit lighter, then this should not even be a consideration. In my case, if it says Oscar nominated, then it is not normally my cup of tea.
RELEASED: 2008, Cert.15
RUNNING TIME: Approx. 105 mins
DIRECTOR & WRITER: John Patrick Shanley
PRODUCER: Scott Rudin
MUSIC: Howard Shore
Meryl Streep as Sister Aloysius Beauvier
Philip Seymour Hoffman as Father Brendan Flynn
Amy Adams as Sister James
Joseph Foster as Donald Miller
Viola Davis as Mrs Miller, Donald's mother
FILM ONLY REVIEW
The movie is set in 1964 at St. Nicholas Catholic church, which runs its own school in the adjoining building and where the staff reside. Father Brendan is the church priest; together with the nuns, he also teaches in the school which is managed by the headmistress, feisty Sister Aloysius Beauvier.
By giving very thought-provoking sermons in his gentle, warm, easy-going manner, Father Flynn is well respected by his congregation, yet Sister Aloysius suspects that he isn't all he seems and she warns other members of her staff to be vigilant, urging them to report anything to her which appears to be unusual.
Sister James is an eager young teacher at the school who though intelligent and good at her job, does seem to be fairly naive. She is rather in awe of Sister Aloysius, yet simultaneously has an admiration for the staunch, strictly authoritarian headmistress.
When Donald Miller joins the school and is put into Sister James' class, Father Flynn feels for him and takes him under his wing as he believes things could be difficult and unsettling for Donald, due to him being the only black child in the establishment.
One day, Sister James notices that Donald behaves rather strangely when he returns to the classroom after having spent some time with Father Flynn. On getting close to Donald as she walks up to his desk, she notices the smell of alcohol on his breath. Later, Sister James spots Father Flynn placing an item of clothing inside of Donald's locker, and she becomes worried as to what could be happening. When she speaks to Sister Aloysius in private about her concerns, she is shocked to learn that the headmistress suspects Father Flynn of sexually abusing Donald and that was the reason why she'd issued the warning to all staff about remaining alert to anything suspicious or unusual within the school.
That is a basic outline for the story, and you will need to see it for yourself to find out what happens.
Despite the atmosphere of austerity within the school where the staff reside - an atmosphere largely created by Sister Aloysius' commanding personality - I personally get the overall feeling that the children's welfare is of prime importance, despite the handling of such being carried out with a strictness which borders upon severity. It thus can come as a surprise to see that the staff are quite jovial with one another when the children aren't around, e.g. during their communal evening meal times.
Throughout this movie, Sister Aloysius appears to control the school with a rod of iron that edges upon the barbaric, yet I saw a massive similarity between her draconian principles and the caped, mortar-boarded teachers from my own primary schooldays. In the early part of the film, I viewed her as a rather ferocious, imposing disciplinarian, lacking in warmth and coming across as all but totally unapproachable, yet as the storyline progressed, I saw something deeper at work underneath her domineering, forthright exterior. It struck me that she was the type of woman who pastes on a mask of untouchable superiority to the world, yet deep within her lies....not a humanitarianism exactly, but a gruff, no-nonsense characteristic which is quite markedly tinged with a deep care about her staff and pupils. I found myself warming to this irascible nun as the film progressed, despite disapproving of the methods she chose with which to run her school and support her staff.
Father Flynn I found to be inspiring in the first instance, but not too far into the film, I could feel something within his possibly too nice personality that made me uneasy as to what was going on down in the deeper parts of his emotional make-up. I can't quite describe the feeling I was getting about him as it was something I couldn't exactly put my finger spot onto, but it gave me a crawling sense of uneasiness, making my flesh creep a little.
As for Sister James, she came across to me as a fresh-faced, enthusiastic and lively young lady who loved and cared about her job deeply, yet at the same time was vulnerable....probably due to her tender age, and quite likely being from a sheltered background, yet eagerly willing to learn.
I viewed Donald as a sad and withdrawn child, and guessed that if this story was a real situation and I'd have been his schoolteacher, I'd keep a close but surreptitious eye on him as I'd feel he was hiding away from the world inside of his head. To me, he displayed all the characteristics of a child who is deeply troubled and I'd have been curious (as his teacher) to know more about his home life.
Mrs Miller, Donald's mother, only had a very short role in the film, but nonetheless significant. Watchful, worried, sad, depressed and a little hostile, she is a woman carrying a heavy load and has plenty on her mind. To find out what, you must watch the film.
John Patrick Shanley created the screenplay for and directed this movie, which he adapted from his play written some time earlier. As far as the storyline is concerned, it bears a distinct similarity to a British film I saw during the early 1990s, and I'm sorry to say I've forgotten its title. Although the two storylines are similar, the endings are very different in that as far as Doubt is concerned, the audience is left hanging a little in that a definite conclusion isn't reached. An open-ended conclusion to the film means that viewers must reach inside of their own minds and form their own opinions.
The film did grab my attention right from the beginning, and throughout I was pleased that there were no deviations in the form of action, sensationalism or anything else which seems necessary these days to satisfy an audience, making them walk away from the cinema feeling as though they've had their money's worth. As far as me personally feeling as though I've had my money's worth, all I ask for is a good story, marvellous acting and skilful direction/production - for me, this film had the lot.
I felt that the primary actors cohered beautifully (Streep, Hoffman and Adams). The diction from each was perfect and I could understand every word....sometimes I find the American method style of acting can spoil my viewing experience, as I can't always understand what the cast are saying, but all came across loud and clear whilst I was watching Doubt.
Even though I feel that Hoffman and Adams gave outstanding performances as Father Flynn and Sister James, the crowning glory for me was Meryl Streep's portrayal of Sister Aloysius. I honestly was astonished, as everything else I've seen Meryl Streep in, she's come across pretty much the same, but in Doubt, she blossomed into something different and gave the part her all. I'd guess her advancing years enabled her to inject that extra edge into her truly outstanding performance, as the younger, fluffier Meryl Streep I'm sure wouldn't have been convincing enough playing the role of an ageing, strict, stroppy and straight-laced nun - but she came forth, and admirably!
I'm not sure if Doubt is the kind of film which could stand too many viewings, as despite its brilliance, I feel it's a 'once only' experience that you file away inside the movie cabinet of your brain and remember it rather than return to it. It certainly made an impression on me as aside from the skilful acting, I can't choose which way I'd like to interpret the ending and to leave me thinking and wondering, means that I found it intriguing and stimulating.
In summary, I definitely would recommend this film, particularly if you are bored to tears by ridiculous romps, screeching car chases, blood-sucking zombies who've risen from the dead and knife-wielding top-security psychiatric hospital escapees on the rampage, then I recommend you watch Doubt, as it's an intelligently-presented, engrossing story of suspicion....and as its title suggests, doubt.
Many awards were bestowed upon this movie and the cast, probably the most notable of which was Meryl Streep's Oscar for best leading actress.
For anyone who may wish to purchase Doubt, it is currently available for sale on Amazon as follows:-
New: from £3.91 to £28.79
Used: from £1.57 to £10.00
Collectible: Two copies for sale at £5.00 and £5.99
A delivery charge of £1.26 should be added to the above costs.
As far as I am able to determine, Doubt hasn't yet been uploaded onto YouTube in its entirety, but there are a few trailers/clips available if you wish to get a taster.
Thanks for reading!
~~ Also published on Ciao under my CelticSoulSister user name ~~
Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a priest accused of molesting a young black boy in the school that Meryl Streep is the 'nun in charge' of. All the dialogue circles around this basic premise of suspicion and certainty.
This is an odd film, the reviewers loved it and part of me can see why; the acting and dialogue is superb and it tackles a subject which is tricky and does so in an intelligent way. Yet for all that, somehow it does not work. The plot is deliberately vague, coming from nowhere and going nowhere. I understand that is the point but it failed to grab me and interest me and I was left, at the end, feeling a bit deflated and disappointed.
It starts very slowly and fails to get going for the first half. Meryl Streep is wonderfully horrible and Philip Seymour Hoffman is excellent as the 'did-he-do-it?' priest. The rest of the casting is equally good.
Ultimately, I think, it is just not what I look for in a film and the fact that it failed to resolve (although necessary) was a huge let down.
A woman, troubled by some idle gossiping she had indulged in, sought forgiveness from her priest.
"Take a pillow to your roof and cut it open with a knife. Then return here to me." he bade her. She returns as instructed, and he asked her what happened.
"Feathers. Feathers everywhere Father".
He instructs her to gather up all the feathers.
"It can't be done, I don't know where they all went. The wind took them all over"
"And that" said Father O'Rourke "is gossip".
Taken from Father Flynn's second sermon.
It's surely every parents worst nightmare. You're told by your sons headmistress that she suspects he has been abused by one of his teachers. That's the situation facing Mrs Miller, whose son Donald is attending a Catholic Junior High School in New York.
Mrs Miller only has the one scene (although in two locations) in the entire film, and yet her reaction to this news still troubles me. I wouldn't have expected or can really understand her response.
It's 1964, barely 12 months after the assassination of the first catholic President, and the school in question is a catholic one. The headmistress is Sister Aloysius, and the teacher she suspects is Father Brendan Flynn.
Donald is the first black boy to be enrolled at the school, with his parents believing this would secure him a better chance of attending college than if he had attended his local state school.
The screenplay, and the earlier play this is based on, were both written by John Patrick Shanley. Born in 1950 and raised in the Bronx, this is not only his childhood era, but lends a perfect backdrop for the film and play. I've read that the play left theatregoers in no doubt that the priest was guilty, but curiously this film doesn't. Why Shanley had decided to leave viewers to draw their own conclusions here, when his play had been more clear cut, I don't know.
We couldn't ask for a better historical setting though. The winds of change were sweeping through the United States. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 had just been passed, although I imagine desegregation was still a major issue which most schools, as well as the communities at large, were only just starting to grapple with.
And, oh yes. Sister Aloysius surname is Beauvier. None to dissimilar to that of Jacqueline Kennedy's maiden name Bouvier. Added to which, Sister Aloysius is a widow, whose husband had been killed. (Albeit, not assassinated in full view of cameras, but on a World War II battlefield, we are told).
Meryl Streep's acting as Sister Beauvier gets no better than when she informs us of the fact that she was once married. A lesser actress might have got all misty eyed, or upset. Meryl though, pulls at her bonnet rather irritably, as if irked at her husbands passing.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Father Flynn is outstanding throughout the film, and his scenes with Meryl were captivating. Streep is the ice cold, calculating nun determined to get him to leave the school, whilst Hoffman is the perfect foil. Angry and upset at the unsubstantiated allegations, I found myself transfixed at their verbal exchanges.
A wonderful part in the film is where we see Father Flynn with two contemporaries eating dinner. Theirs is a jovial meal, with drinking, smoking and bawdy tales of a mother and daughter that Father Flynn once knew. Compare that to the austerity of dinner time with the nuns which we immediately switch to. Sitting in silence, still wearing their bonnets, it's solemn and dour, and not a meal I would enjoy.
The writing overall is superb although the dialogue between Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn whilst riveting, isn't either the best or the most enlightening in the film.
Sister Aloysius: "I want you to be alert. I am concerned. Perhaps needlessly. About matters in St Nicholas School."
Sister Raymond: "Academically?"
Sister Aloysius: "I was not inviting a guessing game, Sister Raymond."
For a large part of the film, we're lead to believe that the accusations Streep makes are purely with dispassion, but it's only towards the end that it becomes apparent this isn't the case. Streep, as Sister Aloysius, I believe gets the better lines. Hoffman, though, has two crucial scenes, both of which involve him giving a sermon. The first sermon is the opening scene of the film and plants the seed of suspicion in Beauviers head. The second sermon is aimed directly at Beauvier and is about gossip and the damage it causes.
Of the children playing the parts of the pupils, only two or three get any real screen time, and crucially, young Donald Miller is absent in all but one scene after the allegations break. This, of course, makes it all the harder to draw any conclusions as to Flynn's guilt or innocence, as we do not see the child at the centre or witness his version of events.
The film is also beautifully shot. The approaching storm and howling wind we see in many scenes ties in nicely with the changing sociological climate of 1964, and the gathering storm within their very school walls.
I personally came away thinking Father Flynn was entirely innocent. He comes from a different era to Beauvier, and believes the school needs to move forward in their thinking. He firmly believes this means becoming more in touch with the families in their community, and not aloof from them. He makes a suggestion in the film about taking some of the school kids camping. Were he grooming a child, this of course would be exactly what you would expect him to suggest.
What makes it so difficult for me to decide conclusively though is the fact that the earlier play had intended the audience to believe in his guilt. Here though, Beauvier convinces nobody of his guilt. Ultimately, what makes the consequences of her actions so devastating is the fact, revealed in the last scene, that she herself is now unsure of Flynn's guilt.
The dvd is rated a 15, primarily of course due to the subject matter which isn't going to make for comfortable family viewing.
For those that are interested in such things, my dvd contains five bonus features.
Doubt, from stage to screen
The cast of Doubt
The Sisters of Charity, and
A feature commentary with John Patrick Shanley.
I've only watched the first and third of these, and although I'd recommend watching them if you have the time, they're not crucial to your enjoyment of the film itself.
There are subtitles in English as well as nine other languages.
At 103 minutes long, it's neither too long nor too short a film.
Doubt stars Meryl Streep as the nun, Sister Aloysius and principal of a school where Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is the Catholic priest. Sister Aloysius is quite traditional and Father Flynn is more progressive. Sister Aloysius forms a suspicion of him which is further substantiated by Sister James (Amy Adams). She sees some evidence of an inappropriate relationship between Father Flynn and one of the pupils.
Sister Aloysius is adamant that she is right (she has no doubt), but so is Father Flynn. The film develops this theme of suspicion and doubt. It also includes the disturbing idea that the boy's mother wants to ignore the suspicion so as not to injure his education. The film seems to come to the conclusion that we should all doubt our beliefs. In terms of theology, this is postmodern. However it might be helpful when thinking about our relationships. This film certainly got me thinking about the way I make certain judgements. Why did I dislike Father Flynn from the start? Was it just the way he did his hair and cut his nails?
Doubt looks like it might be an exciting mystery or thriller. But it's not. There is no resolution. This is just a philosophical but challenging story.
Adapted for the screen by John Patrick Shanley, the writer of the stage play Doubt: A Parable (2004) and produced by Scott Rudin, the film Doubt (2008) is an exploration in religion, morality and the dangers of suspicion.
Doubt is set in a Catholic Church and adjacent school in the Bronx, New York in 1964. The scene is set with Father Flynn delivering a sermon on doubt, which leads Sister Aloysius, the strict principal of the school to ask her fellow nuns the Sisters of Charity of New York if they'd noticed any unusual behaviour from Father Flynn and to keep their eyes open.
Following these instructions a young and innocent nun Sister James notices a closer than usual relationship between Father Flynn and an isolated lone black student, Donald Miller, including smelling alcohol on the boy's breath after a meeting with the Father and an unexplained event where the Father was seen placing a white shirt in the boy's locker. The passing on of her concerns to Sister Aloysius results in an unwavering belief from Sister Aloysius that Father Flynn is engaged or planning to engage in an inappropriate relationship with the boy and a determination to get him removed from the Church.
Interventions with Father Flynn and Donald Miller's mother leads to more reason for speculation, but with no tangible evidence and no way to prove guilt or innocence, all we are left with is doubt.
Meryl Streep - Sister Aloysius Beauvier
Philip Seymour Hoffman - Father Brendan Flynn
Amy Adams - Sister James
Viola Davis - Mrs. Miller
Joseph Foster - Donald Miller
Alice Drummond - Sister Veronica
"From Stage to Screen" - an interesting insight from the writer John Patrick Shanley, as well as the cast members and the real life "Sister James" Margaret McEntee describing the task of transforming a stage play into a film.
"The Cast of Doubt" - intriguing banter between the four main actors giving their thoughts on the making of Doubt and the their own opinions of what they thought the true story may have been.
"Scoring Doubt" - more insights from John Patrick Shanley and Howard Shore the composer on the journey of creating the perfect soundtrack
"The Sisters of Charity" - a look at the work and lives of the Sister of Charity through real Sisters and the relevance to the film.
"Audio Commentary" - an option to view the film with audio commentary from John Patrick Shanley
This film for me works brilliantly at creating a claustrophobic world rife with paranoia and suspicion and cleverly also a very narrow viewpoint which makes it virtually impossible to derive an irrefutable conclusion from this film. To a certain extent even if you weren't aware that this film was based upon a stage play, you might get a sense that it was due to the fact the cast size is so small and the locations feel so restricted which are all indicators of a play. That's not to say that the transition from stage to screen was a bad one, but there's just a feeling of the limitations of a stage play that run through this film, which suggest that maybe the story could come across better on stage than though a film medium.
So, with a very small cast, the spotlight falls on all the actors and any flaws or mediocrity would have been amplified tenfold, so the fact the every cast member put in amazing performances and had fantastic onscreen chemistry allowed this film to remain believable and compelling throughout. Meryl Streep was her normal superb self, shining in her portrayal of a person with utter conviction and unwavering beliefs. Amy Adams was also excellent as an innocent individual struggling to reconcile her faith and belief in the good of others, especially a person in the position of a Father against doubts caused by the conviction of Sister Aloysius. Philip Seymour Hoffman was fabulous as Father Flynn, a man under attack from damaging and character destroying insinuations and an escalating desperation to prove his innocence. Special mention must go Viola Davis as Mrs Miller who despite only having one scene was able to put in a truly believable performance of a mother torn between what she knows is right and what she knows must be done.
So, as you'd expect in a play, the crux of the film relies heavily on the dialogue which despite being a little slow sometimes remains completely absorbing due to the skills of the actors. It is only really through the dialogue that we can piece together the full story, but the fact that we can only see the limited and undoubtedly biased viewpoints from four main players and never the one person that could confirm or deny the insinuations, Donald Miller himself, means we can only formulate a conclusion from the opinions of these characters. This leaves the entire film open to interpretation and even at the end of the film when there seems to be a clear conclusion, it is impossible to be left without niggling doubts.
This is an exceptionally intelligent film playing on our natural suspicion for the propensity for corruption in humans that will leave you second guessing yourself and riding a rollercoaster of changing opinions as the film progresses but still unable to find that conclusive answer at the end which will probably leave you thinking about the story hours afterwards. With 5 Academy Award nominations, this is a must see film for anyone that wants to have their sense of conviction put to the test.
The film Doubt is set in the late 60's in a church school. It is headed by a strict Principal, Sister Aloysious. This conservative, rigid principal, played by Meryl Streep is juxtaposed with that of the young, forward thinking priest, Father Flynn, played by Seymour.
My understanding of the film is that Sister Aloysious cannot identify with the methods that the priest adopts in both his sermons nor in his dealings with the boys from the school, which breeds suspision on her part from the start.
This is kept in check initially by the character, Sister James who falls somewhere in the middle of the two other characters with her traditional approach to her duties in contrast with her yearning to explore the new.
When the naive Sister James brings to her attention a concern she has about the relationship between the priest and the only black boy at the school Sister Aloysious grabs the opportunity to let her suspicions snowball.
The drama of the film builds from the premise of this suspicion and you are carried along wondering how far she will take it, whether any evidence will come to light, is she driven by the welfare of the boy or by her loathing of Father Flynn's modern thinking.
Great acting on the part of the three main characaters brings this story to life, with the ending taking us back to the beginning with the whole concept of 'doubt', albeit rather abruptly.
This is a film only review.
I enjoyed looking at the stern face of Meryl Streep in the posters and trailers of this film. I thought she looked particularly fetching as a nun and as I have appreciated her acting in several other films (less so in 'Mama Mia') I was keen to see this film.
The narrative follows the suspicions of a nun who is head teacher of a Catholic school for boys in New York. It is set in the early 1960s - as a western world is poised on the edge of the age of promiscuity. Sister Aloysius Beauvier suspects that the priest connected to the school is behaving inappropriately with the school's only black pupil. Bolstered up by some information from the young nun teacher who teaches the boy, she seeks to find out the truth and eject the priest from the school. She does so in full knowledge of the patriarchy and power of the Catholic church.
Merlyl Streep plays Sister Aloysius Beauvier. It is another very watchable performance from her as she mixes the stern assertiveness of her role as protector with the glimpses of her softer side. As a viewer, I wondered at the journey that had brought this woman to this point. There were hints of other situations in the past that had been dealt with. You can see that she is a woman acting on her life experience; she has matured and learned things along the way. She seems sure of herself - but there is doubt lurking in there too.
Phillip Hoffman plays the part of Father Brendan Flynn, the Catholic priest who takes an interest in the young black pupil. His performance is believable as a seemingly kindly priest who takes the part of a boy who experiences some bullying and exclusion because of his colour. The priest is plausible. The audience experiences the doubt of the play as he is accused by the nuns.
Amy Jones plays the part of the young nun, Sister James. As a young actor she is indeed very credible as an inexperienced teacher who wants desperately to believe the best of people, be kindly and well-liked. She deeply respects the elder nun and cares for the welfare of her young charges. It is her report that spurs Sister Beauvier into action. Sister James, despite wanting to do the best for her pupils also has doubts about the chain of action that she has helped set in motion.
These three main characters drive the action forward - although it is a narrative that is heavy in dialogue (being adapted from a stage play).
Suspicion (and the accompanying doubt) weaves through the film skillfully - engaging the audience in the suspicion too. You are required to make a judgment - but that judgment wavers as you listen to various viewpoints.
The power of patriarchy in organised religion - especially in Catholicism encourages a consideration of the mechanisms that keep such an institution in place. What happens to the priest at the end of the film will not come as a great shock to anyone - as it may be something a viewer has experienced before in aspects of life. I myself have seen this happen to a work colleague and questioned to advisability of it.
Racism/homophobia are examined in the situation involving the black student. There is a great scene in the film where Meryl Streep's character discusses the situation with the boy's mother. The situation suddenly becomes a whole lot more complex - and again - the viewer must reexamine his or her own judgments. In difficult circumstances do different rules apply? What is the priority here? It is indeed a chewy problem!
I really enjoyed this film. I enjoy the examination of difficult subject matter through verbal interaction so, for me, the film did not need to have lots of other stuff going on. The world of the mind is a huge place and I think this film deals with things that are cerebral - quite easily alongside the inferred physical abuse. I particularly liked the slight twist at the end which involved the elder and the younger nun - although I felt the end was rushed; it seemed to come suddenly and I was left with a feeling of -"Is that it?" I felt as if the ending should have definitely been dealt with differently.
Would I recommend the film? Yes. I think the issues are important. To pass judgment on others is a serious thing to do and so many people do it as a form of recreation in their daily lives with opinions on celebrities - especially those who end up being accused of some crime. I am always amazed at how easily people form crushing opinions with so little evidence and a dose of hearsay. I felt that a film which exercised and developed that desire was a worthwhile experience.
Whatever one may have reason to doubt by the close of John Patrick Stanley's cinematic adaptation of his own (highly-regarded) stage play, what remains utterly beyond question is the following: rarely can an author or dramatist be trusted with the task of translating his or her own material to the screen.
Folks tend to get anxious, over-protective. Oh but that line means a lot to me, oh but the essence of the whole THING is there, in that, in those half-dozen lines of superfluous repetitive blather you're asking me to prune, or to excise or, dear God, to rewrite.
The fact is, adaptation is a complex procedure. Pointing a camera at a play does not necessarily make for anything remotely resembling worthwhile cinema. Rather, what tends to occur is that the things that made the original so striking in its natural environment fall by the wayside, whilst all of the flaws hitherto hidden just below the surface are brought squealing into the light.
So it is with Doubt.
In the early 1960s, a principle at a New York Catholic school (Meryl Streep's Sister Aloysius Beauvier) comes to suspect that a priest (Fr. Brendan Flynn, played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman) might be forging an "inappropriate relationship" with a young black student. Following a report from a young teacher (Sister James, played by Amy Adams) that, indeed, the youngster has been acting very strangely of late and Fr. Flynn has been giving him an awful lot of special attention (and possibly alcohol), the matter is debated and dissected throughout a series of extended dialogue-exchanges.
The performances from all involved are absolutely beyond reproach, and when it comes to life, Stanley's dialogue is electric. For too much of its running time, however, Doubt is a pretentious, lazy undertaking far-too-assured of its own importance.
Much has been written about the stage-play's engagement with the ins and outs of the post-9/11 War on Terror, particularly the invasion of Iraq. The spectres of those ever-elusive WMD's hang heavy over proceedings - we're never sure whether Fr. Flynn has done anything wrong, only that he has done SOMETHING, and that Sister Beauvier is thoroughly convinced of his deviancy. Is that enough to justify his expulsion from the school? Is that expulsion likely only to make matters worse even if he DID indeed take advantage of the child?
Doubt asks us to take hold of the evidence presented and to draw our own conclusions. For this, it is commendable. Furthermore, the sequence in which Beauvier confronts the child's mother is a truly challenging, thought-provoking exchange. The boy is "different", the mother says. His father hates him for it. She just wants him to get an education and get the hell out of this rut. It's only for a few more months - if he and the priest are up to anything, well... he's "different."
This scene, I dare say, fell like fire upon theatre audiences. Here, alas, the dialogue (clearly lifted directly from the play) feels over-written and the performances are over-mannered and distracting. There's nothing inherently wrong with unnatural performances, there's nothing inherently wrong with stagey-dialogue, but here, for whatever reason, it doesn't work, and the direction is far too pedestrian overall to do anything to alleviate the sense that, really, this is all just an advert for the play.
Doubt is a serious drama starring two powerhouse performers in the form of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep along with Amy Adams.
The story takes place in a strict catholic school headed by Meryl streep where Seymour and Amy adams plays a father and a young nun respectively.The story turns intense when the headmistress suspects the father of molesting/using the only black student in the school. The fact that the black student is bullied by other white students and is helpless adds to the dimension of the story, suggesting that Seymour is only supporting the helpless student who is in much need of some support in a cruel environment in the school.
Though the film runs on a thin plot, the screenplay writers does a fine job to make a poignant and intriguing film. This belongs to the long list of acclaimed films where you have to read between the lines and there lies the strength of this film. It is a treat to catch two of the finest actors pitted against each other and both come out with flying colours. The film is a fine product of brilliant storytelling and reaches greater heights at certain instances in the film.
This is a film which delves into one of human's nature- doubt and succeeds to a great extent in unraveling it.
This week I finally got to watch "Doubt" which I'd managed to miss in cinema. The three leads were nominated for awards at both the Oscars and BAFTAs but missed out in what proved to be a very strong season. While my husband (whose opinion is often mentioned in my reviews) loves Amy Adams he decided watching her in a nun's habit wasn't going to be his thing and gave me permission to watch it without him as, with his busy schedule, I'd have had to wait a week a and half to get to it!
"Doubt" was originally written as a stage play in 2004 entitled Doubt: A Parable written by John Patrick Shanley. The film stays very true to the play with Shanley writing the screenplay and directing. A parable is a simply story containing a moral and so I shall keep my description of the plot simple. Father Brendan Flynn (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) is the younger parish priest of St. Nicholas Church and its school of whom Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) is the strict, conservative principal. The young, naive but enthusiastic Sister James (Amy Adams) loves her students and brings her concerns about the schools only black student, Donald Muller, to Sister Aloysius setting off a chain of doubts and accusations regarding Father Flynn's relationship with the boy.
This is a film based on a layered and nuanced play about doubt and certainty and the dangers of both. Questioning concepts of kindness and goodness and wondering whether there is a place for everyone. It would take more than the one viewing that I've had to fully comprehend the way that you are lead through the story, never on sure footing even until the last.
SO SHOULD I SEE IT?
For a few of you this film may be the kind of thing you can only imagine being forced to endure in a high school English classroom (and I have no doubt it will appear there before too long). If you actually felt that Terminator Salvation had an amazing screen play then I'm not sure you'll manage to sit still for the 104 minutes. However, I strongly believe that this is the sort of film that people should watch and appreciate and applaud. The screenplay, the acting, the setting choices, particularly when it came to colour were beautifully done. My only concern is that perhaps Shanley, who's previous directing credit was "Joe and the Volcano" (which I love but for rather different reasons!!) may not have been a strong enough director to handle a talent and personality the size of Streep.
Set in 1964 in the Bronx in NYC this film is a period piece not only in costume and buildings but in tone. Grey skies, grey buildings, grey trees, this is a time and a place where life has limited hope or possibility. Frosty the Snowman is looked on with doubt and suspicion and anyone who does not conform to the norm is likely to suffer cruelly.
The cast is brilliant and their past work had me hoping for greatness from them. Streep, Hoffman, Adams and Viola Davis who had a small but gripping role as Donald Miller's mother were all nominated for big awards this year and deserve it. Amy Adams was basically meant for this role but manages to temper some of the over the top bubbliness of some of her previous films to create the character I feel the audience relates to the most. She is our guide through this labyrinth of doubt, fear and accusation.
The two real powerhouses of the film are obviously Hoffman and Streep who are no strangers to the award ceremonies. Hoffman was brilliant as Flynn managing to control his layered, conflicted character who wants to do good, but sometimes falls short. My only concern was that, in some ways he desexualised his character too much and kept him too pure and godly. Streep has been accused of being too one dimensional with her character but this is an area where I wonder if the direction also plays a real role. Her portrayal of Sister Aloysius' makes sense when she finally allows the cracks to show, her previous one-dimensional certainty is shown as a mere façade.
It was a beautifully crafted film, a real actor's film. Was there a special effect besides Sister Aloysius' light continually going out? I don't think so. But none were needed. See the film, but make sure you're in a mood to appreciate it for what it is.
Doubt is the Oscar nominated film adaptation of the John Patrick Shanley stage play Doubt: A Parable, and stands as one of the few films that is written and directed by the same person who wrote and directed the play. The film is also further distinguished as being one of the few films in history to recieve nominations for all four of its lead cast members, with Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and Viola Davis all recieving nods for their performance (although none were victorious), and Shanley's script was also nominated.
Set in 1964 at a Catholic church in the Bronx, New York, the film revolves around Father Flynn (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), a man accused of molesting one of the local school boys. Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep), leads the accusations, insistent that he is guilty, whilst Sister James (Amy Adams), a young and naive teacher, isn't so sure - she sees a connection between Father Flynn and the boy that is undeniably deep and thoughtful, but isn't sure whether it is pure and innocuous or not.
This is an unsettling and extremely well crafted morality piece that sticks to its title right to its climax - this is a film not only about the doubt of the crime, but the doubt of beliefs, notably as the Sisters are forced to consider whether their faith will be enough to guide them through this incident.
All central performances are superb, and whilst Viola Davis' short scene is questionable as being Oscar worthy, Hoffman, Adams and Streep in particular deliver some of the best performances of 2009 for sure. This is fiery, fierce, confident filmmaking at its best, and whilst the delivery is quite mechanical and dragging at times, this is a mostly compelling and richly layered drama.
Doubt is a dryly-delivered, nevertheless compelling morality play, boasting a terrific set of performances from Meryl Streep, Amy Adams and Philip Seymour Hoffman, as well as benefiting greatly from solid direction from the play's author, John Patrick Shanley.