It’s a beautiful Friday outside in Doylestown, and before I dive back into a pile of legitimate work, let’s discuss a movie my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed viewing this week. The movie in question is Doubt, starring Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams.
Plays that become movies don’t have pulse-pounding action or glossy special effects to keep our attention. They rely entirely on the gravity of their situations and the capabilities of their actors. Mostly all a director has to do is set up the scenes and shoot from a couple different angles. There’s no harm in this approach, as Casablanca proves. It would be easy to make the result a wooden translation of the script, however, especially in when in the hands of the original author.
John Patrick Shanley doesn’t stick to his own stage directions. He brings his work to life on the screen with poise and aplomb, letting his actors animate their roles without tying them to the stage. Here and there, we feel the touch of a true filmmaker rather than a playwright behind their first camera. There are a few shots that are breathtaking in their artistry, underscored not by the lines spoken but rather the fact that they are silent. When words are spoken, it’s clear that every one counts. The pace of the film is slow and deliberate, which might be a turn-off to some viewers, but it lays a foundation for solid storytelling.
Doubt is set in the Bronx a year after President Kennedy’s assassination and focuses on an interplay with a Catholic church between a stoic, traditionalist nun, Sister Aloysius (Streep) and the forward-thinking compassionate priest of the same parish, Father Flynn (Hoffman). When allegations of an inappropriate relationship between Father Flynn and a young black boy are raised, we are given no clear evidence that leads us to guilt or innocence. These individuals, and the institution they serve, are painted in shades of gray rather than black and white. Sister Aloysius is doing the right thing in investigating the possibility of Father Flynn’s indiscretion, but her zealotry evokes the crusading fervor of the Spanish Inquisition. Father Flynn has a sense of humor and conveys real personality, but Shakespeare’s Hamlet taught us “one may smile, and smile, and be a villain.” Make no mistake, folks: these actors are two of the very finest of our time, and they could power the television with the electricity of their shared scenes alone. Even when they are not speaking, the things that go unspoken between them are louder than every explosion Michael Bay could ever hope to cram into a movie. Amy Adams’s Sister James is terrified of the implications of these two titans doing battle, and every element of the film, from the direction to the acting to the music and scenery cast doubt upon the characters, and ourselves, masterfully.
This is a well-written, intellectual mystery that delivers drama, power and emotion without needing a single gunshot or autopsy scene. Some movies ask you to check your brain at the door, and others let you keep it in your head for a bit then have you bid it a tearful farewell as the action ramps up towards the ear-shattering climax. Doubt grabs hold of your brain and doesn’t let go until long after the movie’s over. The lack of action might cause some people to give it a miss, but I honestly feel those people are missing out on something great. If you’re a fan of any sort of crime drama, put Doubt on your queue and bump it to the front. You will not be disappointed.
Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.