Doubt review by Jackass Tom

When it came to finding a movie to see one Friday night, you bet I told my wife, “Oh this one about a nun and a priest looks AWESOME!!”

Not quite how it went down. In fact when selling a movie like Doubt it does take a little explaining. Most movies are a form of escapism and very few of us are looking to escape to the Catholic Church in our fantasy time. So the story has to be really good and I was assured by someone that Doubt (even with all of my reservations and…oh let me say it… “doubts!”) was worth seeing. And now I pass along to you the faithful reader of a website that refers to its writers, affectionately, as ‘jackasses’ that it is a film worth seeing.

The film opens (Boston, circa 1960s) with a sermon from Father Flynn (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) giving an immediate reference to the vague, monosyllabic film title: “doubt.” The word ‘doubt’ is introduced in innocent enough terms. Through his sermon he reveals that there are parishioners/school children who have doubts in their faith and he simply gives justification for doubts but re-affirms their need to align themselves with the Lord. Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) is also introduced during this sermon, as she walks down the outside aisle of the pews walking up sleeping boys with a bit of brute nun-force. Outside of Black Narcissus there are essentially two types of nuns: the really sweet nuns that offer candy, pocket sized bibles, and warm pats on the back kind and then the kind that enforce the good word with hellfire and brimstone as their chosen form of communication. Sister Aloysius is definitely the latter.

Later that night, Sister Aloysius has a nagging suspicion that the sermon was something more; maybe the tip of the iceberg for something strange that was going on with Father Flynn. Sister James (Amy Adams), the other kind of nun, grudgingly gets pulled into the inquisition of Father Flynn when she sees what she believes is possible suspect behavior. As the movie progresses, Sister Aloysius’ hunch turns into all out accusation of sexual indiscretion with a student named Donald Miller (Joseph Foster). The two spar numerous times, in a match of semantics that really provides very little in the way of evidence or admission of guilt.

And that’s the genius behind Doubt; its not about what it shows but what it doesn’t show and doesn’t reveal. If Father Flynn is guilty of having any sort of sinful relationship with Donald Miller at the school then the audience has to draw this conclusion through inferences and interpret many vague scenes that could also be interpreted as irrelevant or innocent (Miller’s mother says he is gay, Father takes special care of the boy since he is different). This level of knowledge is fairly even with Sister Aloysius’ level of knowledge, and she freely admits it. To that affect, the film might as well be titled “Certainty” because it is really about how certain Sister Aloysius is about Father Flynn’s guilt despite no shred of evidence that could stand up in a court of law. She plainly states how her intuition is really all she needs in this case and is willing to slander and destroy his career and reputation to get him kicked out her church.

The theme of how we go about defining the truth is a favorite one of mine so I generally enjoyed the film. I don’t always like to gush about acting in films, but in a film like Doubt (screenplay is based on a play), it’s the job of the accused to keep the audience guessing as to whether he is guilty or not, and P.S. Hoffman does just that. There are times when he seems to be giving into his guilt and hiding a shameful act and other times when he is righteous and only protecting the Donald Miller child from being exposed to more people. And as a strict nun, Meryl Streep hits hard. She is stern and tough with the students and she is even tougher with the clergy. She plays the role with a chip on her shoulder and as she hints in the film, she is making up for not acting on her instincts in the past.

Yes, Doubt takes place within the Catholic Church which sounds like a boring proposition for an hour and forty minute movie but it’s a truly compelling film that doesn’t miss a beat in playing out story matter that is difficult to keep neutral. The writer and director create a great atmosphere for the actors to work within and the actors don’t let down the audience.

8 out of 10 Jackasses
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