Sunday, December 28, 2008


I'm trying to get to see as many Oscar-bait flicks as possible. I'll probably pass on Benjamin Button (too Forrest Gumpish for my tastes) and Revolutionary Road (if the trailer is any indication, it looks like a snoozer), but I managed to catch the acting tour de force of Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Viola Davis today.

Set in the Bronx in 1964, the film explores faith and power and betrayal and doubt. Although the child sexual abuse scandal of the Catholic Church took another 40 years to come to a head, Doubt explores what has long been the Church's ugly little secret.

Given our 20/20 hindsight, it's as difficult for the audience to maintain any sense of doubt over of the guilt Hoffman's character of Father Flynn as it is for Streep's magnificent Sister Aloysius. But the fine acting skills of all involve manage to take a black and white issue and add the depth and complexity of many shades of gray.

Although all involved turn in fabulous performances, the knockouts for me were:

1. Meryl Streep, who consistently proves why she's an icon. Even not having grown up Catholic, the domineering and strict nun is still a familiar character. Streep manages to convey all the icy determination, but softened ever so subtly with her no-nonsense caring and protection of the sisters under her charge--as well as the children whose education and well-being she has been tasked with. To be sure, it's all about tradition, respect and the rules--but Streep also displays a protective fierceness of those in her charge that adds dimension to what could have been merely Nurse Ratchet in a habit.

2. Viola Davis as the mother of the allegedly abused boy shows a different kind of ferocity. Also willing to protect with any means necessary, Davis plays Mrs. Miller with dignity and grace--and is the main reason for most of the many shades of gray in the film.

3. Roger Deakins whose cinematography captures the stark and austere beauty of St. Nicholas and the Bronx in the 60s. As he did in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, No Country for Old Men and numerous other productions (Deakins also was DP for upcoming Oscar-bait flicks The Reader and Revolutionary Road. He's a busy and talented guy!), Deakins' exquisitely transcendent camerawork raises the film to a whole other level.

Written and directed by John Patrick Shanley adapted from his 2004 play, Doubt is a solid Oscar contender. I have to say though--while it's most certainly a good film, maybe even a great film--it's a definite downer. I'm glad I got to see the terrific acting and beautiful production design and camerawork, but it's most certainly not what one would term "uplifting." At a mere 90 minutes, it still felt a bit interminable and inevitable.

Still, if Oscar-caliber actors showing off their chops is your cup of tea, then Doubt is definitely a must-see.

1 comment:

  1. Thx for the rec. I love Viola Davis; first appreciated her talents in Traveler. And it's always great to see Meryl Streep transform herself. Such depth and range.