Miramax Films, 2008
By Julissa Trevino
“Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty,” says Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s character, Father Flynn, in Doubt, as he stands giving a sermon before his parishioners in church.
His assertion holds true for the stern and stubborn principal of St. Nicholas Catholic School, Sister Aloysius, played by Meryl Streep. Set in 1964, the film centers on the nun’s relentless attempt to force Father Flynn, a charming and likeable young priest, out of the Catholic school after Sister James (Amy Adams) reveals her suspicion that he may be paying too much (inappropriate) attention to the school’s new and first black student, Donald.
The strength of the film rests on its actors’ performances. Streep’s condescending tone, brooding looks, proper manners and judgments of others make Sister Aloysius a character all the children fear. Hoffman’s charm, easy-going personality and sensitive innocence is played without apology–the children love him because he’s understanding, and the viewer sympathizes with him when he sheds tears during his confrontation with Sister Aloysius. Even Viola Davis’ short appearance in her role as Donald’s quiet and proper hard-working mother is terrifyingly fitting and authentic.
The dialogue particularly draws on the power struggle between Father Flynn and Sister Aloysius and her ultimate refusal to surrender, though you never really find out whether he actually did anything to Donald. The best scene is a long dialogue between Aloysius and Flynn as they argue over her supposed knowledge of his sins.
With a gloomy and windy backdrop, the film uses dim lighting to set the tone of many thought-provoking scenes. But they are ruined by ominous, loud and overbearing noise (both music–loud organ music, of all things–and background noise) and unnecessary over-dramatized shots. Even in the confrontation scene, you become distracted by the background noise: an unnecessarily loud thunderstorm.
While some very important parts are destroyed by amateur hints at something big about to happen, Doubt uses its strengths in all the right ways: The dialogue is powerful, the content thoughtful and the mood refreshingly depressing. While the conflict’s never resolved, it’s fascinating to watch.