Posts Tagged “Meryl Streep”


January 21, 2009
Campbell CA — Camera 7
104 Minutes — December 12, 2008
Drama / Mystery
John Patrick Shanley [Moonstruck; The January Man; Joe Versus The Volcano; Alive]

My overriding impression of DOUBT? Boring.

Streep, Hoffman, Adams. Great cast. But it’s just so slow moving and ponderous. And every time something important is about to happen, the wind blows or rain hits a windowpane or a tree branch crashes down in the courtyard. And then the music swells.

It’s 1964 in Brooklyn. Hoffman is a Catholic Priest (hazard alert). Streep is the principal of the attached school. Amy Adams is the naive, wide-eyed character that we’re supposed to chuckle at and then feel for. Adams thinks she sees Hoffman put a boy’s shirt back into his locker. This boy is the only black kid in a sea of white, which is the excuse Hoffman uses when confronted with the suspicion that he plied the boy with alcohol. But not just any alcohol, mind you; the holy communion wine, the very blood of Christ. Viola Davis plays the boy’s mother who is remarkably nonchalant about the accusation, preferring to hide her head in the sand until summer when her boy graduates.

Streep is on the warpath against Hoffman and the two play several loud, spittle-rattling scenes where they try to scare the other one into backing off. We know Streep is the humorless disciplinarian because we see her walking the aisles of the church scolding anyone slouching or whispering while the sermon is taking place. She strikes fear in the children and other nuns alike. She is a cartoon movie archetype along the lines of the guy in Lean On Me (I’m the HNIC, now), and every other film about school and an evil paddling headmaster.

Hoffman appears to be kind, he connects with the kids, he write sermons that don’t immediately cause his congregation to sleep. But what earthly reason does he have for taking such a shine to the young black boy? We have two choices: 1) he’s a closeted homosexual predator who can’t wait to add another notch on his priestly bedpost; OR 2) he’s a caring priest who ministers to his congregation. Which one do you think the film favors?

We aren’t given any reasons for the actions that the characters take. Except maybe Amy Adams. She sees something and she goes to her superior to discuss it. Fine. Streep makes it her mission to kick Hoffman out of the parish. We are only given hints about the characters’ pasts. Hoffman is apparently at his third church in a short period of time. With 2008 eyes, this is a warning sign. Not so much back in 1964. Streep’s character is a widow who has known life outside the convent, but now finds herself ruling one. She is probably the only non-virgin on the campus.

If there’s a well-rounded and nuanced character, it’s Viola Davis as the mother. The boy has an abusive father, the mother thinks that the boy is gay (although you can bet that word is never used by anyone in this film), and if the priest needs a little loving while he protects the boy from the racist bullies in the hallway, well then, that’s a small price to pay. Davis hits a “if my nose runs and I don’t wipe it during a crying scene I’ll get an Oscar just like Jane Fonda in Klute” move perfectly. Then when we’ve been sufficiently mezmerized by her dripping nose, she miraculously finds a kleenex, wipes herself, and heads off to work like nothing happened. The words that the two women say to each other in the Davis v. Streep walk-and-talk are pretty good. But then the whole scene is ruined by the “foreboding wind of doom” that causes several dozen leaves to press up against Streeps legs. God help us.

So let’s see, Streep thinks that the priest is guilty, Hoffman maintains his innocense, Adams is first sure one way, then the other, and Davis doesn’t really see the big deal either way. You see, they all have DOUBT about what happened. Adams’ doubt puts her on Hoffman’s side and Streep finds a way to keep her doubt at bay. So we all know what the dilema is.

Wait a second, I have an idea. Why doesn’t someone ask the kid what happened? He’s not five years old, he’s in 8th grade! Wouldn’t he be able to at least give an impression about what happened or didn’t happen in the vestry? Is he so in love with the Father that he’d lie under questioning? He’s the only other witness.

I just don’t get it. Any verbal fireworks this film had were more than countered by the clumsy staging, and hit-me-over-the-head symbolism. It saddens me to report that my favorite part of the film, the only point when I wasn’t near dozing, was the spectacular church choir and organ song played loudly over the credits. What a shame.

Oscar Nominations: Meryl Streep Actress; Philip Seymour Hoffman Supporting Actor;Amy Adams Supporting Actress; Viola Davis Supporting Actress; Adapted Screenplay John Patrick Shanley;

7.0 Metacritic
7.1 Critical Consensus
8.2 IMDB

Doubt (book) @ Amazon


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Written by Michael W. Cummins