Monday, April 13, 2009
2008 drama written and directed by John Patrick Shanley based on the play, which was also written and directed by John Patrick Shanley. Clearly he feels very deeply about this story, and thank goodness because this movie is tense, naturaly, sincere and very compelling, which is mounds more than I can say about anything else Shanley's done (for example, his last directorial attempt Joe Versus the Volcano). Well, regardless of whether or not he's been a Hollywood C-student so far, he gets a solid A with this one. Doubt tells the story of three administrative persons at a parish and parish school. A nun/principal Sister Aloysius (played by Meryl Streep), a priest Father Flynn (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) and a teacher/nun Sister James (played by Amy Adams) and a matter that comes up that disrupts them all. The school has just allowed it's first African-American student and the priest is taking him under his wing. There's a moment where Father Flynn calls him out of class for a private meeting and he comes back to class acting odd and smelling of alcohol. Sister James brings this information to the principal and sparks a conflagration. Sister Aloysius becomes obsessed with punishing and banishing Father Flynn. This is what the movie is factually about, but really the movie is about control and certainty and how sometimes our desperate yearning to attain both can require great, and arguably unnecessary, costs. Sister Aloysius is doing something that no one wants and no one believes. Sister James at a point asked, "Have you proved this?" Aloysius responds, "to whom?" James, "To anyone but yourself." Sometimes we want something so bad, want to be right so badly, that it doesn't matter who we hurt or what we do to get it, even hurting ourself. Aloysius is a woman of great convictions and deepseated beliefs, but she's also alone and feared and likely hated by many. She never speaks of any true theology or ever of the compassionate side of Christ. In fact, Christ isn't mentioned at all. This need for control and certainty has been a virus that has plagued the Church, leaving many bodies in it's wake and leading many good people to flee from the Church feeling like they'll turn into salt if they even look back. We've all known a Sister Aloysius and that's the problem. This aspect of the Church creates more victims than it does actually foster the spirit and message of Christ or even the Church itself. A good example is when Aloysius suggests Sister James put up a picture of the Pope and James says, "we can't put that one up, it's the wrong Pope." To which Aloysius says, "Oh, who cares what Pope it is, what you need is the reflective surface so you can see what the children are doing behind you while you're writing on the board." Exactly. What makes this movie worth every minute are the performances. I think Viola Davis got an Oscar nom simply b/c Academy voters wanted to give one to everyone who had more than a line in this movie b/c I kid you not this movie has the strongest ensemble performance I've ever seen. This wasn't a great actor surrounded by good actors, everyone in this flick is firing at all pistons. The three main's especially are all truly amazing and I felt like I could watch them for days. When the movie was over I didn't want to leave them. Streep, however, brought it to another level. This was easily my favorite performance of her's. There was an entire novel's worth of emotion in every movement and facial expression she made. Every look is full of complexity and apparent, natural emotion. At all times the viewer knows absolutely that this person truly believes in what she's saying or doing. And every action and reaction felt totally honest, even when she's outright lying. This is a sad story, but one that's made gripping and enjoyable to watch thanks to the very strong performances of the primary actors and the fantastic visual work by my man man Roger Deakins.