In 1964, a Catholic school nun questions a priest's ambiguous relationship with a troubled young student, suspecting him of abuse. He denies the charges, and much of the film's quick-fire dialogue tackles themes of religion, morality, and authority.
Knee-deep in the throes of my first love, I was quite surprised to hear that my lady's favourite movie was 'Joe Versus the Volcano'. (I still haven't seen the film). It dawned on me, when I wanted to check out an American film which, to my knowledge, had a plethora of fine acting, that this was written and directed by the same guy who made that film much earlier. Being raised Christian and hearing in the press over the past few years about misdeeds, especially involving leaders of the Catholic church (represented in films as diverse as 'The Boys of St. Vincent' (John N. Smith, 1992) and 'In Bruges' (Martin McDonagh, 2008), I was especially intrigued by this, his work of more recent vintage.
The ambiguity at the core of the film (and hence the 'doubt') really acts in the movie's favour. The script and direction are both tense and flawless, and the beautiful New York locations chosen to illustrate The Bronx in 1964 help air the play out, and give it more cinematic scope. It features some of the finest work I have seen from Philip Seymour Hoffman (though my favourites will always be 'Happiness' and 'The Master'), Meryl Streep (my most-esteemed works of hers are 'The Deer Hunter' and 'The Devil Wears Prada') and Amy Adams (this is her finest performance IMHO) as well as a breakthrough role for Viola Davis, who steals every scene she's in. This easily holds up well even with Shanley's Oscar-winning screenplay for 'Moonstruck', and, though dark and depressing, is thoroughly recommended for those who can stomach its subject matter, and peer into that abyss without flinching, as these fine exemplars of 21st-century American cinema so easily do here.
That it didn't win any of its five Oscar nominations is almost as ghastly, to the cinephile, as the misdeeds insinuated here are to the community at large. Must have been a strong year for film, methinks.
Scott Rudin Productions, Goodspeed Productions by John Patrick Shanley.
Stars: Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Viola Davis.
Genres: Drama, Mystery
Keywords: sexual abuse wine gift janitor singing pedophile gossip compassion tolerance 1960s
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