Doubt - 2008
Director(s): John Patrick Shanley
Writer(s): John Patrick Shanley (screenplay / play)
Cinematography by: Roger Deakins
Editor(s): Dylan Tichenor
Cast: Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Viola Davis, Amy Adams, Alice Drummond, Susan Blommaert and Audrie Neenan
In 2004 John Patrick Shanley debuted his off-Broadway play, Doubt: A Parable, and by 2006 it had over 500 performances, won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play. A couple of years later he was approached to bring this story to the big screen, allowing him to expand past the scope limitation of the stage, and bringing to life the world the main four characters inhabited. The film would receive three Academy Award nominations for acting, and one for writing, making it one of the best movies of 2008. So, with that out of the way, how about we talk about it.
The story takes place at a Catholic church in 1964's Bronx, New York. This church has a parish school that is run by the strict and stern Sister Aloysius (Streep). She has had disagreements with the way the newly assigned father, Flynn (Hoffman), has been leading his sermons and treating the boys at school. When Sister James (Adams) tells Sister Aloysius that she has noticed a strange relationship between Father Flynn and the school's new, and only, African-American student, Sister Aloysius tries to get to the bottom of this relationship with hopes of stopping it and relocating Flynn to another church.
I do not it is a coincidence that this story takes place in 1964, a full year after the assassination of JFK, as the story deals with personal faith and faith in institutions, we know it is set in the backdrop of a country reeling from the death of their leader. A nation looking for guiding voice, and the church has always been there for when times get tough. That is a big reason why Sister Aloysius is fighting against change and wants to hold on to the values and ways of the church, as she sees how everything around her is changing and not for the better (in her mind). In part that is why Father Flynn's scandal is ultimately brushed under the rug - they do not want another institute to fall in the eyes of their community - especially considering that the kid in question was an African American.
Now while this story still feels as it has the constraints of the stage, as it focuses more on dialogue, it does utilize its cinematography and blocking to its fullest thanks to Roger Deakins touches. The best example of this visual storytelling woven in between the conversation is how Deakins used angles to convey how was in charge or "winning" the argument. The best example comes from the final confrontation between Father Flynn and Sister Aloysius - as there is a shift in power throughout the fight represented in the tone of voice, their, and the camera angles. Father Flynn starts in a standing position looking down at the camera, as he is exerting his superior rank within the church, and Sister Aloysius sitting down looking up at him, unsure of her accusations. As she grows more and more confident in her believes, and in the fact that she is doing the right thing, they switch positions with her looking down on him - from her moral high ground. When you watch this scene, you can spot how the conversation flows, each switching positions and it is a beautiful thing to watch thanks to Deakins' eye and the performances from two of the greatest actors of all time.
Quick note: this power struggle is contrasted in the previous scene, as Sister Aloysius is pleading with the mother of the kid in question, Mr. Miller (Davis). There is never a power dynamic, as they are always talking eye to eye equals in the face of this tragic situation.
This film is also an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the art form of acting (sorry) showcasing four of the greatest actors in the history of Hollywood in Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Viola Davis, and Amy Adams. Streep is stern and walks with a sense of righteousness, but behind each mean look and insulting comment, she injects love and passion. Love and passion for the ways of the institution that has guided her throughout her entire life. Philip Seymour Hoffman is broken shell of a man that tries to flaunt his knowledge and power as a shield to hide the fact that he is not the leader this community deserves, his body language during the last confrontation with Streep is incredible. Viola Davis, while given a limited amount of screen time, stays with you as you can see a woman, mother, and wife that is stuck and powerless due to her race and gender. The way she makes Streep back down through streams of tears and snot is beyond impressive. And finally, Amy Adams is the innocence being destroyed. The “outsider” who blindly trusts in the church and must question all her believes due to the event unfolding.
Doubt is an incredibly well-made film that explores countless themes all rooted in blind faith – it asks the audience to walk away with a healthy amount of doubt. One should always question things that seem too good to be true. Boasting a well-written script, with the visuals of Deakins, and four incredible performances, Doubt is one of the best films to have come out of the 2000s.
Doubt is Why I Love Movies.
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