Doubt (2008)

Director:  John Patrick Shanley
 Meryl StreepPhilip Seymour HoffmanAmy Adams, Viola Davis

Plot:  Set in 1964, Doubt centers on a nun who confronts a priest after suspecting him abusing a black student. He denies the charges, and much of the play's quick-fire dialogue tackles themes of religion, morality and authority.

  Drama / Mystery

Awards: Nom. for 5 Oscars - Best Leading Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress (x2), Best Adapted Screenplay
Runtime:  104min

Rating:  PG
for thematic material. 


John Patrick Shanley brings his Pulitzer-winning play of the same name to the big screen with positive results.  He writes and directs Doubt, a film that literally pits two of cinema’s great acting talents - Meryl Streep, and Philip Seymour Hoffman - against each other. 

Streep plays Sister Aloysius, a conservative nun and a strict principal who works with old-school methods and demands a high level of discipline and obedience from her students of her church school.  Hoffman plays Father Flynn, a liberal and easy-going priest who works in the same school. 

What seems like a holy and peaceful environment is unsettled by Sister Aloysius who accuses Father Flynn (which he denies profusely) of making inappropriate advances towards Donald, a lonely African-American boy with no friends and a father who ill-treats him. 

Doubt brings to question on many issues that will probably never ever be explained succinctly.  The most troubling of all is the doubt versus certainty debate.  What makes us say that we are certain about something when there are hints of doubts that naturally circulate in our mind?  What governs our right to feel and determine whether something is certainly right or wrong?  Do doubts make us feel certain?  Or does certainty create doubts?

The film does not give viewers a clear answer; instead it drafts up scenarios that explores the existence and importance of having doubts and uncertainties in our lives.  Doubt also touches inferentially on homosexuality and liberalism versus conservatism.  The story is set in the 60s, a turbulent but defining decade when humanity are introduced to new social beliefs and ethos.

Shanley’s impressive screenplay captures the essence of that period with the wit of an experienced social observer;  he balances the film on a knife edge between outright amusing and relevantly serious, and certainly deserves its Oscar nomination for adapted screenplay.  Moreover, Shanley’s direction is purposefully slow and straightforward, giving the elegantly-photographed film a cultured and natural feel. 

Apart from writing, Doubt has four acting Oscar nominations for four of its major roles.  Supporting actresses Amy Adams and Viola Davis give exemplary performances but are still clearly outshined by Streep and Hoffman.  Streep seems to earn an Oscar nomination every time she stars in a new movie.  

She deserves her third acting Oscar here despite the strong challenge posed by Anne Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married (2008), and Angelina Jolie in Changeling (2008).  Hoffman is probably one of the few actors in the world who is able to match Streep word for word. 

Three-quarters into the film sees the two square off against each other in a lengthy, devastating verbal tirade that is the centerpiece of the picture.  Doubt is potent, powerful filmmaking with great performances and has high rewatchability.  One of 2008’s best films, there is no doubt that Doubt is in line for a top ten finish. 


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