Old 01-01-2009, 11:27 PM

It's 1964, St. Nicholas in the Bronx. A vibrant, charismatic priest, Father Flynn, is trying to upend the school's strict customs, which have long been fiercely guarded by Sister Aloysius Beauvier, the iron-gloved Principal who believes in the power of fear and discipline. The winds of political change are sweeping through the country, and indeed, the school has just accepted its first black student, Donald Miller. But, when Sister James, a hopeful innocent, shares with Sister Aloysius her suspicion that Father Flynn is paying too much personal attention to Donald, Sister Aloysius is galvanized to begin a crusade to both unearth the truth and expunge Flynn from the school. Now, without a shred of proof or evidence except her moral certainty, Sister Aloysius locks into a battle of wills with Father Flynn, a battle that threatens to tear apart the Church and school with devastating consequences. >>> This stars: Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Well, it was good but not very dramatic. It lacked emotion. What you see in the previews is what you get. The acting was great, no complaints there. I feel there were a few holes in the story that I wish were explained better. An ok rental. I give this movie a 5.5 Ken
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Old 01-03-2009, 09:48 PM
Doubt - 10/10

Why John Patrick Shanley's adaptation of his own stage play, Doubt, is not getting more buzz for a Best Picture nomination I do not know. It seems as though the solid yet overrated Wall-E is getting more attention and that saddens me. Doubt is just about as close to flawless as a film can get. It's interesting, well-acted, well-directed, though provoking, atmospheric and has a great screenplay. In all honesty there is not a film I have seen this year that even comes remotely close to being as good as this. Albeit, I still have to see a handful of potentially great films (Revolutionary Road, The Wrestler, among a few others), but if this is not in my top 3, I will be extremely, extremely surprised.

The trailer is one of the best of the year, but it really does not do the film any justice, and the film ended up being quite different than I expected. The plot is fairly straight forward. A Catholic grade school principal, Sister Aloysius, is an extremely bitchy, mean-spirited and nearly 100% conservative woman (at least we think so). She basically runs the place, intimidating the very friendly and kind Sister James, as well as the students and other nuns. The only one in her way is Father Flynn, who is liberal and fun, and is trying to make St. Nicholas Catholic School a friendlier place.

When Sister James suspects something odd between Father Flynn and the lone African American boy in the school, she notifies Sister Aloysius, who seemingly thrives on the opportunity to get Father Flynn out of the school and church. That's about all I am going to say. You may think you have it figured it out from the trailer, but I assure you, you are probably wrong, at least to a certain degree. Suspicions grow, people begin to doubt (pun certainly intended) not only others, but themselves and their actions, and what we get is one of the most engrossing, thought-provoking and interesting stories that I have seen presented on film in a while.

The ending really does leave you with quite a few questions, but I would not necessarily call it "open-ended". It's pretty clear cut, but the facts simply are not presented on a plate like many moviegoers enjoy. You may call it a bit of a "twist", but I wouldn't completely describe it that way. It will undoubtedly have you thinking for quite a while, presenting a few possible scenarios. The thing is, there is no true evidence, which although obvious from the trailer, is not exactly the context I'm using it in. I'll stop rambling and just say that you really have to see it for yourself to understand, and you'd be a fool not to see it.

The acting is flawless, the best of any film released this year. Meryl Streep is taking the Oscar. Winslet is great I imagine in both of her films, but I would be shocked to an extreme degree if she was better than Streep in Doubt. Her facial expressions, her movements, her body language, her vocal expression. All of these things make up one of the most complex characters of the year. Much is implied about her character, enough for us to have a great idea at the end of the film what she truly represents, but Streep really makes her a mysterious character, one that is quite mean and who has about the driest sense of humor I have ever seen. There's also another adjective I would like to use to describe her character, but I'll leave it up to you once you've seen it and I'm sure you'll know what I mean. Philip Seymour Hoffman is fucking stunning as Father Flynn. Streep runs away with the show, but Hoffman is right up there with her. Jesus this guy can act. One of the best actors working today hands down. His second sermon about "gossip" is one of the most enthralling monologues I have seen in a long time, and I'll definitely be giving it recognition come the Golden Schmoes. Not only is that part written well, but Hoffman just fucking nails it. His toe-to-toe conversations with Streep are also fucking brilliant. Those two really put on a show. I cannot forget Amy Adams, who is very strong here. She plays the friendly and slightly confused Sister James very well, and the scene where she stands up to Streep's character in the middle of the film may be the strongest piece of acting that I have seen her do. Viola Davis is only in the movie for one scene, but the buzz doesn't lie, she knocks it out of the park. One of the best scenes in the film, and she is largely responsible for that greatness. The rest of the supporting cast, mostly consisting of children, is quite good and creates a very realistic setting.

John Patrick Shanley does a wonderful direction job, maintaining a strong narrative (I don't understand the complaints about the narrative), and creating an insanely authentic atmosphere that words cannot even begin to describe. Roger Deakins does a great job on the cinematography. The shots are all great, and not boring or vanilla at all. There are often quite a few unique shots as well. Dylan Tichenor does a superb editing job, and if he doesn't get recognition come awards time, there will be hell to pay. Just a wonderfully crafted film overall.

I haven't seen the play, but Shanley's story and screenplay are nothing short of fantastic. As I mentioned before, the film may seem quite open-ended to some, but there are so many subtle things that occur throughout the film that it really leaves some quite conclusive answers, as well as some questions that are better left talked and wondered about, rather than being slapped down in front of us like a hunk of raw meat. Conventional story devices and structure are basically thrown to the dogs here. The film is chronological and everything, and it's not exactly anti-climactic, but surprisingly (and again, you'll have to see to understand) there is no protagonist or antagonist, there are no real "winners" or "losers. It's just a very well-told story that strays away from convention (thank fucking Christ!) and leaves you with lots of questions (but not to a degree where you are completely uncertain of things), as well as answers. Just a brilliantly simple, yet undeniably complex story. The film also surprisingly has some very good humor, dry as it may be.

Doubt is the very definition of a masterpiece. It has the acting, direction, story, cinematography, score, screenplay etc. etc. It's not violent or action packed, yet the conversations and monologues in this film are more enthralling than the majority of the action scenes I have seen this year (and I'm not insulting the action scenes of this year either). Whether it is Hoffman giving a sermon about gossip, Amy Adams standing up to Meryl Streep, or Hoffman and Streep engaging in intense conversations, everything is just immensely entertaining and interesting. The subtle little things are really what brings the film up a notch. Whether it is Streep mentioning she was once married, or Hoffman getting a sudden, intense reaction from a seemingly unimportant character earlier on in the film. These subtle things really make you think, really make the film more complex than it may seem from the trailer. The atmosphere of a Catholic Church area in the Bronx in 1964 is so fascinating, it's nearly devastating. All of these things, the acting, the story, the subtle little things, the atmosphere, among other things, make up what is one of the most thought-provoking, entertaining and interesting movie going experiences I have had in a long time. It is the best film I have seen from 2008.

Last edited by Bourne101; 01-03-2009 at 09:51 PM..
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Old 01-03-2009, 10:28 PM

the best acting from a movie all year, the scenes between Hoffman and Streep are titanic and gave me chills. Its just a really well-done movie, you both have already stated the awesome things about it.
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Old 01-10-2009, 02:13 PM

(John Patrick Shanley, 2008)

It is a rare occasion, when a movie causes us to start thinking from the first scene and we never stop. Doubt is one such film; based on a Pulitzer Prize and Tony-winning dramatic play, it is simply loaded to the brim with witty, clever writing, snappy dialogue, brilliant characterizations recurring themes and motifs, touching upon a very wide slew of philosophical and theological themes. Doubt is a movie whose reach stretches very far out, and luckily, it more than delivers all that it promises. It is one of those rare movies that is both thoughtful and intelligent but also irresistibly entertaining and simply enthralling and immensely enjoyable to watch. It’s also one of the best movies of the year.

Doubt works on so many levels that it really emphasizes the flaws in many other similar movies. It all starts with the script, written by John Patrick Shanley and based on his play. It is one of the best screenplays of the year, for a number of reasons. First and foremost, Shanley crafts a story arc so pitch-perfect and so carefully calculated that it really is a spectacle to behold. Starting off with a sermon delivered by the Father Flynn character on the subject of “doubt”, the film then sets out to explore that very idea from numerous points of view. Beyond doubt, the screenplay explores several other prominent philosophical and theological themes, such as faith, and also some anthropological themes such as the racial tensions of the period, 1960’s America, as well as changes in the fabric of society – But I’ll get to those later. Beyond its broad brushstrokes and exploration of deep, resonant themes, the movie portrays a very interesting depiction of a very particular locale: Set in a Catholic grade school in the Bronx, New York City in the 1960’s, the film paints a pastiche of a very particular moment in time, right when American society was on the brink of change, post-Kennedy assassination but pre-Vietnam, at a time when social freedoms and liberties were just beginning to truly bloom and the molds of tradition and conservatism were beginning to break. In addition, Shanley doesn’t neglect his characters, giving each of them complete, rounded personalities and back-stories, lending them the three dimensions often missing from film characters.

One would think that, being directed by a playwright, the film would have a difficult time breaking the limited restriction of a stage play. But the transition to the cinematic medium is flawless in the film, with John Patrick Shanley taking full advantage of his very distinct locations and spreading the film’s events out to effectively break loose from theatrical boundaries. Producer Scott Rudin also spared no expense and has brought together an impressive technical crew that do wonders with the material and make the transition from stage to film even more prominent: Veteran cinematographer Roger Deakins, one of the best working today, does wonders with lighting and composition, utilizing some unique angles and camera positions to add interest and to intensify emotions. And the musical score by Howard Shore is powerful and most complementary of the film’s deep dramatic and thematic elements.

But all of these elements, in particular the screenplay, would not come to fruition if it weren’t for the most important element in the film; the acting. Throughout history the actors have always been the most important aspect of stage plays, a fact that has crossed over into the film adaptation of this particular stage play. The film features a broad and very talented supporting cast, but four performances in particular stand out from the crowd as being particularly prominent. First and foremost, there is Amy Adams as Sister James, a young actress who has been around for a while now but only truly caught prominence after her Oscar nomination for her wonderful performance in the mediocre film Junebug. Since then she has received her first starring role, in Disney’s Enchanted, in which she showcased even more range and a wonderful skill for comedy and drama. With Doubt, Adams treads even new ground and delivers her most dramatic, mature and most fulfilled role yet; although she’s not as prominent as the other veteran thespians in the cast, she still manages to stand her own against them and leave a lasting impression. It’s a great performance. Next up is Philip Seymour Hoffman, in the lead role as Father Flynn, the priest accused of molestation of one of his altar boys by his opposing force and the other lead character, Syster Aloyisus. Hoffman has also been around for quite some time now but ever since his Oscar win for Capote has he really been considered an acting force to be reckoned with. I have been a fan of his for a long time, and I think that it’s absolutely wonderful that recently he finally been getting the recognition he deserves and is considered by many (myself included) to be one of the finest actors working today. Throughout his illustrious career, Hoffman has shown impeccable range in his roles, and now he can add Father Flynn to his arsenal as one of his most accomplished, rounded, and best performances. Relatively unknown compared to the rest of the cast, Viola Davis, portraying Mrs. Miller, the mother of the boy who may or may not have been molested, has only one scene in the movie that lasts no more than a few minutes, but it leaves a lasting impression as one of the best and most powerful scenes in the movie. In it, she showcases such raw, visceral emotion; you can feel the desperation behind her anxious, darting eyes. Hopefully, this performance will go down in history as one of the great “single-scene” performances, along with Beatrice Straight, who won an Oscar for her six-minute appearance in Network.

But the fourth performance is so delightful, so magnificent, so grand and bombastic and significant, that it deserves its own paragraph, although it can be summed up in two words: Meryl Streep. A few months ago I saw the movie Sophie’s Choice for the first time, and I was utterly stupefied, totally blown away by what quickly became, in my opinion, the single greatest female performance of all time. It was at that time that it suddenly hit me that Meryl Streep is probably the single greatest actress of all time, and now, 25 years later, Streep proves that she still deserves that title. Her performance in Doubt is so good, that I really find it quite difficult to put into words. Every single little detail and aspect of the performance is nailed, to perfection, by Streep. Every facial tic, every eye-rolling, every mouth twitch, every pause in the dialogue, every sigh – it is one of the most beautifully, amazingly calculated performances I have ever seen, and I don’t think any actress other than Streep could have pulled it off quite as well. She nails the Bronx accent, the body language, the tone of voice – it’s a sight to behold, and I think the film is worth checking out for her performance alone, although of course there is much more to it than that. My favourite actress is Kate Winslet, and what I want most for her is to finally win a long-time, much-deserved Oscar; this year, with two acclaimed performances, her chances seem better than ever – and yet, if there is any justice in the world, Streep will win her third Oscar for her performance in this film. It’s that good, and it is, by far, the best performance of the year.

Back to the themes, I was startled at just how much the film discussed. It’s not just about doubt and faith, two major theological themes touched upon both in the film’s plot and in Father Flynn’s amazing, incredible sermons, flawlessly and powerfully delivered by Philip Seymour Hoffman. The film also delivers a very important and noteworthy message about the social change beginning to bloom in American society in the mid-1960’s. This was a time when people were breaking the molds of traditionalism and conservatism and taking steps towards change and progress. In the film, the two main characters represent this conflict: Sister Aloyisus represents conservatism and tradition, while Father Flynn represents progress and modernism. While she detests ballpoint pens, frowns upon drinking tea with sugar and shudders at the thought of secular, radio songs appearing in the school Christmas pageant, Father Flynn takes the exact opposite view. In addition, their approaches to faith seem different: while Aloyisus is a cold, craggy skeptic, Flynn seems more open, loving and compassionate. The battle of the wits between them is allegorical to the nationwide social conflict between these two schools of thought. Sister James, representing the younger generation, seems torn between the two schools of thought of the older generation, and frequently passes from one to the next. Without giving too much away, at the end the film also contains a subtle criticism of the Catholic Church, whose bureaucracy and “channels” are emphasized throughout the film – the same elements that eventually lead to what may or may not be a prominent figure in the Church getting away with an unspeakable sin and covering it all up.

Doubt is one of the most accomplished, multi-faceted films of the year, and that is because it has so many elements going for it that are so expertly done. It is based on a brilliant, clever, witty screenplay by John Patrick Shanley, adapted from his play and featuring a compelling story, sympathetic, well-developed and rounded characters as well as touching upon broad theological, philosophical and sociological themes and allegories. It features the best acting ensemble seen in any film this year, with Amy Adams, Viola Davis and Philip Seymour Hoffman delivering some of the best acting of the year, and Meryl Streep going even further and giving us the single best performance of the year and one of her personal bests. And overall, Doubt is a fascinating, gripping tale that is heavily dramatic but also features many moments of humour; meaningful and significant, wildly entertaining and thrilling to watch, and keeps you thinking about it both during its runtime and after it’s over. One of the best films of the year.

RATING: 9/10.
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Old 05-12-2009, 10:39 AM
Coming from a Catholic school background, there was a lot in this film that I could relate to. Although most of my teachers were laypeople as opposed to clergy, there were a couple nuns looming in the background. Some were like Sister James (kind, understanding) and some were more like Aloyisus (thankfully I kept my distance from them). I also knew my share of priests. One embodied Father Flynn's more positive traits (conversational, kind, engaging) while others, I am certain, may have shared Flynn's alleged indescretions. Enough about me, though...

It is not often that one gets four great performances of equal weight in one film. First and foremost is Meryl Streep. In addition to being the best actress of her generation (or possibly any generation), she is one of the few actresses who can play cold and compassionate with equal conviction. Sister Aloyisus clearly falls into the former camp, and one cannot help but sympathize with any student sent to her principal's office.

I have been of the opinion that Phillip Seymour Hoffman's Oscar win for CAPOTE was premature. His best work has come since then (Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, The Savages, Charlie Wilson's War), and his performance in this film only strengthens my feelings. Through the entire film, I sided with his character because, regardless of whatever happened in the rectory, he seemed to be the only one who gave a damn about that boy. Coming from someone who has a built-in distrust for priests (or any clergy) and for the Catholic Church in general should speak volumes about what Hoffman achieved.

While not as prominent as her co-stars, Amy Adams more than holds her own. Much like Flynn, she is from the school that believes that the Church should be more open and welcoming and that Catholic schools should not feel like prisons. By the same token, she admires Aloyisus's conviction and confidence. Adams convincingly portrays that split and the uncertainty that comes with it. Thinking on it, I think her character represents the feelings of uncertainty that come with times of immense change, and that is true for both 1964 (when the civil rights movement was in its ascendancy and rumblings of youth rebellion were stirring) and in 2009 (when war is raging in Central Asia, and a new generation is chartering a new course for America).

Last but not least is Viola Davis. While she has only one scene, her performance puts an exclamation mark on many of the things this film represents. One can clearly see and hear the split insider her on the fate of her son. On the one hand, she is not happy about what may have happened to her son, yet at the same time, she wants her son to finish school so he can have a chance at a better life and escape his abusive father. And if that requires keeping Father Flynn around, she is willing to pay that price. If Adams' turmoil represents that of America as a whole, Davis' represents that of the audience. At least that's how it was for me.

In short, Miramax has added yet another gem to its crown.

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