Yesterday I indulged my guilty pleasure of going to the cinema in the daytime, which still makes me feel like a naughty schoolchild even though I've had the freedom to do it for the last ten months or so.
After seeing the trailer for Doubt I added it to my must-see movie list, mainly due to the chameleon-like prowess of Meryl Streep, who can do something as ridiculously frivolous and entertaining as Mamma Mia - The Movie and then play someone as diametrically opposed as this devout nun. Let's face it though, not all her movie roles have been winners, can anyone remember the train-wreck that was 'Death becomes her'?
I'm glad I didn't go to see Doubt for my Birthday or Christmas though, as it's not a happy film, but saying that it's not a particularly depressing one either. It's just one of those 'quiet' films where the wonderful dialogue and outstanding performances make the movie.
Directing and writing the screenplay, John Patrick Shanley brings his Pulitzer-Prize winning play to the big screen with an all-star cast. Set in 1964 at St. Nicholas in the Bronx, Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep, Mamma Mia) rules her school with an iron-rod, believing in the power of fear and strict discipline. The 'Dragon' as the Principal is known, suspects all may not be right at her school and asks her fellow nuns, including innocent Sister James (Amy Adams, Enchanted) to be vigilant.
Charismatic Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote) is the priest who is challenging the St. Nicholas' strict and traditional customs. He has taken a special interest in altar boy, Donald Miller, the first black student to attend the school.
Is this just a case of Father Flynn showing kindness to a friendless new student in a prejudiced community, who has a father who beats him at home, or is something more unsavoury happening?
Sister James witnesses the priest returning an item of clothing to her pupil's locker and grows suspicious when Donald is called from her class in the middle of a lesson by Father Flynn and returns acting oddly and with alcohol on his breath. She shares her concerns with Sister Aloysius, who has seen this thing happen before and she begins a crusade to remove Flynn from the school.
She has no evidence, but she has her unwavering moral certainty that he is guilty of abusing the boy and will let nothing stop her from expunging him. Even though she's a bit of a tyrant with the children she really does care, as we see her defending the old and frail Sister who is going blind, whilst we also see that she has the best interests of her pupils at heart.
In addition to the racial climate, we also see that 1964 is a man's world where the male clergy rule the church and look out for one another. No more so do we see the differences between the genders than in the scenes that contrast the rowdy and sinful male clergy who are not afraid to indulge their gluttonous ways, smoke and drink alcohol, hardly virtuous behaviour, whilst the quiet and proper nuns accompany their simple meal with a glass of milk.
After a confrontation where Sister Aloysius accuses the priest of molesting Donald and Father Flynn says the boy was upset because he'd caught him drinking communal wine and he had threatened to revoke his status as an altar boy.
Sister James hoping to believe that all is good in the world and following another conversation where Father Flynn uses his charm to talk to her, believes he is telling the truth and that Sister Aloysius doesn't like him because he is unconventional, likes sugar in his tea and is in favour of introducing more popular secular songs into the Christmas concerts, like 'Frosty the Snowman'.
Sister Aloysius faces a moral dilemma when she speaks with the child's mother, who is apparently willing to turn a blind eye to the priest's relationship with her son because of her son's 'nature' and the fact that she knows her husband would kill the boy if he knew what was going on. Apparently Donald had to leave his other schools because he was gay and concerned for his future, she just needs to keep her son in school until June to qualify him for a good high school and ultimately college. It's the worst decision for a mother to make, does she choose the lesser of two evils, her son being killed by his father or being abused by a priest who shows him some kindness.
Streep's character herself commits a sin for the greater good, tricking Father Flynn by telling him a lie, that she has spoken with a nun at his previous parish (which is not church procedure) and she will not give up until she has found a parent willing to talk to her and confirm her suspicions. Her strong and unwavering stance forces Father Flynn to confess his actions to her and he is ultimately removed from the school.
Unfortunately it is a pyrrhic victory as his reputation is protected by his male superiors and he is even given a promotion in another parish and school.
Overall I liked the movie, but you can tell it's based on a play, as it's all about the scenes between Streep, Hoffman and Adams. Meryl Streep really does become this strict character and to reinforce this image, you never see her out of her nun's habit, with her piercing bespectacled eyes staring out from beneath her bonnet.
Amy Adams is also great as the innocent soul who has had her eyes opened to the world, whilst I'm not sure it's a complement to say that Philip Seymour Hoffman is the perfect choice to play this child molesting priest, he is equally charismatic, slightly sinister and seedy all at the same time.
I give the movie three *** stars, mainly because it's hard to say I enjoyed a film about the subject matter, not that it's treated in a sensational way, but it's not the happiest of subjects. Also even though there were fabulous performances, the scenes weren't quite as electric and powerfully charged as I found those in Frost/Nixon which I consider a comparable film in many ways, not least that it is also based upon a successful stage play.
Now the big question is what to watch next at the cinema...