Action / Drama / Mystery


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Philip Seymour Hoffman as Father Brendan Flynn
Amy Adams as Sister James
Meryl Streep as Sister Aloysius Beauvier
Viola Davis as Mrs. Miller
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811.59 MB
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1hr 44 min
P/S 4 / 76
1.65 GB
23.976 fps
1hr 44 min
P/S 4 / 9

Movie Reviews

Reviewed by st-shot 8 / 10

American Film's heavyweight acting champs square off.

There are no better actors working in American film today than Meryl Streep and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Streep has been on top for some time now and Hoffman has an unmatched resume of fine performances over the past five years. Pairing off as adversaries in John Patrick Shanley's stage play brought to screen they parry and prod throughout with each landing hay makers along the way.

Change is in the wind in 1964 for both the world and the Catholic Church (Second Vatican Council) as the country moves from conservatism to liberal thought. Sister Aloysius (Streep)is the principal of an inner city Catholic school who rules with an iron fist. Lamenting the loss of tradition (she thinks Frosty the Snowman is a song about worshiping false idols) she crosses swords with the popular and laid back Father Flynn who takes a more liberal view seeing the need to keep up with the times. His progressive ways gnaw at Sister Aloysius and she is soon suspecting Father Flynn of inappropriate relationship with altar boys even though she is without concrete proof.

The scenes between Streep and Hoffman are riveting from start to finish. Both attempt at first to be civil with each other but eventually they end up at each others throat bullying and threatening. It is a titanic emotional struggle that makes for a gripping drama flawlessly acted. I'm no big fan of Streep, finding the adopted accents she employs in some of her films false and hollow, but as the self righteous Nunzilla her pugnacious style and inflection rates with her Sophie's Choice performance. Hoffman has his work cut out for him to keep up with the formidable legend but he holds his own with equal footing.

In supporting roles Amy Adams is very effective as the unintended go between Sister James. Seized with doubt she like the audience mirrors our own misgivings as conflicted objective observers. Viola Davis as a troubled boy's mother has one lengthy powerful and painful scene that begins to tie loose ends together but offers no easy solution.

Writer director John Patrick Shanley does an admirable job in keeping the plot nebulous with ambivalent scenes and peripheral characters that purposefully enhance the suspense. Scenes are tightly edited with sparse but effective dialog giving the film its steady pace. Other than some jarring oblique angle shots the camera compositions and set design provide a somber ambiance for the drama and an arena for the perfectly measured performances by two masters of the craft in this fight to the finish that remains absorbing from beginning to end.

Reviewed by evanston_dad 8 / 10

To Doubt Is Human

"Doubt can be a bond as strong as fear." If ever there was a time in our country's recent history where that line carried the force of relevance, it's now.

And though it's set in the early 1960s (roughly a year after the Kennedy assassination), there's no doubt that John Patrick Shanley's adaptation of his own Pulitzer-Prize winning stage play is a response to these dark times, when the only thing that seems to be uniting Americans is their collective insecurity and ever-weakening belief that things are going to get better.

At the center of "Doubt" is the mystery of whether or not a priest (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) is guilty of taking advantage of an altar boy. The priest's primary (and really sole) prosecutor is Sister Aloysius, the uber-stern and terrifying principal of the Catholic school that provides "Doubt" its setting. Watching Hoffman and Streep spar is like watching two professional tennis players at their best, and fans of expert movie acting should waste no time in seeing the sparks fly between these two. The movie purposely never clarifies the ambiguity of the charges -- is Hoffman's priest truly guilty of something, or is Sister Aloysius simply on a mad witch hunt? Streep's character is the most fascinating. From one perspective, she's a nearly maniacal harpie, intent on ruining a man's life and career for no clear reason. However, if her accusations are legitimate, she's a sort of hero, demanding justice from a male-dominated world that's willing to look the other way. Streep's performance is something fascinating to behold -- she can convey more with an arched eyebrow than another actor can with his entire face.

Amy Adams gets the pivotal role of a young, innocent nun who first brings her suspicions about the priest to her superior, and then sees them become Frankenstein's monster. In many ways, Adams' character is us, the audience, placed in the position of having to come to a conclusion on our own when empirical evidence is lacking. Adams' role is the least showy, but she does much with it.

And then there's Viola Davis, who, in five minutes of screen time, decimates the audience with some shocking conclusions of her own as the altar boy's mother. The insulated, hushed world of the Catholic Church is blown wide open by this struggling mother, who's seen more of the world than any of the priests and nuns sheltered behind the church's walls, and who puts the film's running themes of racial and gender inequality into harsh perspective.

The central conflict in "Doubt" in many ways comes down to each individual's view of the world and his or her ability to accept the ambiguity of day to day living. There's a lot about the world we will never know and much about our futures we'll never be able to control. So what's better -- anticipating the worst and therefore being prepared when it comes; or believing in the best and running the risk of being disappointed when it fails to arise? The movie just poses this question -- it doesn't try to answer it.

"Doubt" is not a fancy movie and will win no awards for its cinematic audacity. But in looking back at the movies of 2008, I imagine it will stand as one of the best-acted films of the year.

Grade: A

Reviewed by Howard Schumann 9 / 10

Avoids easy answers

According to a report commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, over four thousand clerics were accused of sexual abuse during the past fifty years. Although approximately thirty percent of these accusations were not investigated because they were unsubstantiated, given the proclivity of the bishops to cover up these incidents, the figures are widely suspected to be underestimated. What may be lost in the discussion of statistics about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, however, is an understanding of the humanity of the people involved or the complexities of the circumstances.

This factor is brought to light in Doubt, John Patrick Shanley's filmed version of his Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning stage play. Based on Shanley's personal experiences at Catholic School, the film explores not only the issue of possible sexual abuse but conservative versus progressive religious values and how far one can rely on suspicion in the absence of proof. Set in 1964, one year after the Kennedy assassination, Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep) is the dragon lady of St. Nicholas school in the Bronx. A strict taskmaster, she relishes her role as the upholder of tradition, rejecting such modern devices as ballpoint pens and the singing of secular songs at Christmas like Frosty the Snowman which she equates with pagan magic.

Under Aloysius is the sweet and innocent Sister James (Amy Adams) whose easy going manner and charming personality is a welcome antidote to her authoritarian superior. The priest at St. Nicholas is Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who is the closest thing to a progressive at the school. He is open to new ideas and the changes initiated by Pope John XXIII, being much more open and relaxed with the children and engaging them in sports and conversation. In his sermons he brings the language of religion into the twentieth century, talking about the positive aspects of doubt and the injurious effects of gossip. "Doubt", he says, "can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty. When you are lost, you are not alone." Resentful of the role of women in the Catholic Church and suspicious of Father Flynn, Sister Aloysius assigns Sister James to keep an eye peeled for anything unusual in his conduct. Her fears appear justified when Sister James reports that Father Flynn asked Donald Miller (Joseph Foster II), the school's only African-American student, to a private conference in the rectory and was seen hanging up the boys undershirt in his locker. Sister James also informs her that there was alcohol on the boy's breath and that the boy seemed upset when returning to his desk.

Although no inappropriate behavior was witnessed, Sister Aloysius suspects wrongdoing and summons the priest to her office on the pretext of discussing the Christmas pageant. She accuses the priest of misconduct with the altar boy who denies that he gave altar wine to the boy or that anything unusual happened. The drama takes more twists and turns, especially when Donald's mother (Viola Davis) raises Aloysius' eyebrows by suggesting that, in spite of the allegations, the boy, who is due to enter high school in a few months, may be better off in the hands of the priest than having to face his intolerant and abusive father.

Doubt avoids easy answers and challenges us to view inflammatory issues from a broader perspective, embracing the essential mystery of human behavior. The acting in the film is uniformly brilliant. Streep is mesmerizing, even if at times more theatrical than may be necessary for the character. Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance is more restrained and draws our sympathy with his broader view of church doctrine and display of love and compassion, although his demeanor at the end tantalizingly suggests remorse.

What may be the most noteworthy performance, however, is that of Viola Davis whose dialogue with Aloysius is one of the dramatic high points of the film. The issue of whether Father Flynn acted as a friend and mentor to the boy or a sexual partner is ultimately left to the viewer to resolve, though what is beyond doubt is that absolute certainty without considering other points of view is a dead end for all involved.

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