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:: Doubt

Doubt is a seemingly simple story that deals with the ever-complex themes of political, religious and social change, and the clashes brought about in the wake of progress.

The film is based in St. Nicholas School, a typically dreary, grey Catholic school in 1964 Bronx. Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) rules the school with infinite fanaticism, ensuring all students cooperate under her strict regime of rules and appropriate behaviour. Even the staff are not immune to her scrutinisation and it is here that the problems begin. Father Flynn (Seymour Hoffman) is a priest at St Nicholas, and is the antithesis to Sister Aloysius- he is forward-thinking, liberal, young and most of all, takes it upon himself to befriend the school’s first, and only, black student, Donald Muller. This relationship catches the eye of the almost desperately moralistic Sister Aloysius, after fellow nun Sister James, (Amy Adams) admits to observing strange behaviour in the young boy, shortly after dealings with Father Flynn.

Now finding prey for her next Catholic crusade, Sister Aloysius embarks on a witch-hunt to oust the priest from the school, the fortress that she considers needs protecting. Without a shred of evidence, yet such conviction in the face of Father Flynn’s often-silent denial, Sister Aloysius takes the audience on a journey of having faith in the good nature of people, or having suspicion in the abuse of trust and power.

Director John Patrick Shanley penned this screenplay by adapting his earlier Broadway play of the same name. Currently nominated for five Golden Globe awards, including Best Performance for an Actor and Actress in A Motion Picture (Seymour-Hoffman and Streep respectively), this story is one that thematically resounds with and intrigues a vast demographic of audience goers. The “who-did-it-and-did-they-really-do-it?” type of film is always thought-provoking, always analytical, always leaving the audience with a sense of….well, doubt. Add a Catholic priest and a young boy to the mix and its controversial and commercial appeal is obvious.

However, I wonder if the film loses some of its magic in its transition from stage to screen. Having won a Pulitizer Prize and a Tony Award for the play, the pressure is on for Shanley to step up to the mark in the screen version. With heavyweights Streep and Hoffman on his team, it would seem this task would be relatively easy.

Hoffman and Streep don’t fail to pull off the acting chops either, yet the film feels slightly unbalanced. The first half takes great cares to paint a picture of Streep’s hardline, no-nonsense attitude, when just one scene from the great Meryl is enough to paint the picture. The second half seems just a back-and-forth series of verbal volleys between the two leads. Sure, it’s great to watch for the acting, but it lacks the tension, it fails to portray the heaviness of this situation, an element which I think is simply lost when the actors are not in the room with you, as in the theatre.

The second half of the film goes quite quickly, and Father Flynn soon realises he is dealing with someone who has played the God game a lot longer than he has- and concedes defeat. All in all, it is an interesting and entertaining film, but five Golden Globes… did I miss something?