Doubt is an excellent film about…doubt! This is a play adaptation, but I didn’t have the constant feeling that I was watching a play made into a film. The story is interesting and keeps you wrapped up in the two competing sides of the view of the Mother Superior (played by Meryl Streep) and the side or denials of the priest (played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman). A young nun caught between the two is played by my favorite young actress Amy Adams. She has the ability to bring a certain wide eyed innocence to a character without it seeming to be put on (see Junebug and Enchanted).
Hoffman and Streep are terrific. In another year they would be shoe-ins for the Best Actor and Actress Academy Awards, but this is a year of many strong lead performances so they may be considered underdogs though they certainly should be nominated. So far I haven’t seen performances that I think were stronger than theirs, but perhaps equal in quality. Suddenly Sean Penn in Milk came to my mind and his is an equally amazing performance this year.
The best scenes in this film are when these two go head to head. And they sure butt heads. At first you seem convinced that this terrific priest is entirely innocent of the possible accusations. The Mother Superior is against change of nearly any kind. She believes in rules and discipline to the chagrin of the students at the school. The priest is a heralding in of the new views of the church. But, there is so much more to her and the priest’s character. As the movie unfolds you start seeing more and more shades of gray. Amy Adam’s character seems to bring out a softer gentle side of both the characters and she also hears the point of view of them.
There is one scene that is phenomenal that doesn’t include these three characters in some interaction. The one African American student at the school may be the child being abused. You would think the outrage of a parent when called to school to discuss this would blow the school apart. But, this was a different time and a different society because of the 1960s setting. Viola Davis is the actress who plays the boy’s mother. She is fabulous in this small part where she goes one on one with Streep. It was nothing that I would have expected and in that it’s such a refreshing and heartbreaking scene.
This truly is one of the five best films of 2008. I’m moving on toward countdown to the Academy Awards to try and see all the top films. Doubt gets a solid A from me. I’m hoping all four of the top performances will get acting nominations (and they did). I’d love to see this get best film, best director and best adapted screenplay nominations as well though it seems slim right now for best film and director. So far the films not to miss that I’ve seen recently were Gran Torino, Doubt, Slumdog Millionaire and Milk. Reviews are still to come on Milk and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Then later I’ll get my thoughts down on Last Chance Harvey and Marley and Me.