Finally Oscar buzz proves itself worthy as the eagerly awaited Doubt opened this weekend. John Shanley succeeds in faithfully adapting his 2005 Pulitzer winner to the big screen almost verbatim with the divine helping hand from the Coen Bros’ DP, Roger Deakins, and as always – performances by Streep, Hoffman, and Amy Adams delivered.
Set in the tumultuous year of 1964 as the country deals with the aftermath of the JFK assassination, the civil rights and feminist movements, the escalation of the war in Vietnam, and the race to the moon, the second coming, (who would go on to be more popular than Jesus) The Beatles, were making their debut at the Ed Sullivan theatre while just a few miles away the Bronx St. Nicholas Church School also struggles to keep up with the times by accepting there first black student (Donald Miller). Dictated by principal/gate keeper, Sister Aloysius Beauvier, (Meryl Streep) whose name itself reflects a Dark Ages ball buster, is set in her old ways of defacto disciplinarian that pits bunched granny pantied nuns vs. students. But while Sister Aloysius tries to hold the reigns by putting the fear of God into every boy and girl and scrutinizing every gesture and flirtation, in contrast, young Sister James (Amy Adams) joins the fold of old cripples, bringing her innocent and amenable teachings. However it is the new Father Brendan Flynn (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) who challenges Sister Aloysius’ seemingly wicked ways with his compassionate, amiable progressive approach towards the impressionable students by sermonizing subliminal messages of doubt and faith. But this cool Priest image is soon shattered as we discover that his real interest in relating to students may really be to show them the light where the sun don’t shine. Sister James raises suspicion as she reports to Sister Aloysius of Father Flynn’s particular interest in Donald Miller, whom he has called out of class for a personal head to head confession while sucking down wine and probably some kneeling in the pew. Sister Aloysius with no solid proof except for her keen sense of sniffing out a perv plays mother hen as she sets out to bring down Father Flynn at all costs and to protect Donald Miller. But the real twist to this tale is that there is no doubt that Donald is a homo too! Go figure…
Meryl adds a New Yawkish (hawkish) accent to her resume as her austere performance with a cold calculated comedic timing – keeping her the center of attention. Soft-spoken Amy Adams, who still finds enjoyment in Frosty the Snowman, plays a believable new naive teacher believing these constrained preteens’ only desire is to memorize Franklin D. quotes when really they are sneaking in ballpoint pens and suffering from self-induced bloody noses to escape. Phillip Seymour Hoffman appears to have finally showered since his last unkempt roles in Synedoche, New York, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, and The Savages, but still hasn’t found the time to trim his nails. Yet even with them clean claws to snatch up little boys he remains likeable, sympathetic, and idealistic.
But perhaps Doubt’s biggest surprise is the performance by Viola Davis as Donald’s mother. It would appear that all those Law & Order victims taught Davis a thing or two about crying on cue as she steals a scene from Streep with a supporting actress nom by displaying drizzling snot as she fights for her son to stay in St. Nicholas where his care under Father Flynn may be a bit too hands on but is less harmful than facing his Father’s fists at home. But for me personally, I’d rather be punched in the face than to be fist fucked.
With the year coming to an end it looks as though Doubt will be taking home a few prizes leaving all us sinners condemned to hell for stealing some of God’s umpf by exposing his philandering Priests (and Michael Jack) and nose pickers yet again.
(Hoffman’s vice leading him to become a Priest)