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With: Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Viola Davis, Alice Drummond, Audrie J. Neenan, Susan Blommaert, Carrie Preston, John Costelloe, Lloyd Clay Brown, Joseph Foster, Bridget Megan Clark, Michael Roukis
Written by: John Patrick Shanley, based on his play
Directed by: John Patrick Shanley
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic material
Running Time: 104
Date: 10/30/2008

Doubt (2008)

3 Stars (out of 4)

The Priest Within

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The trailer for Doubt makes it look like a ridiculous spoof of an Oscar-winner (much like the phony Tropic Thunder trailers), but the surprise is just how funny it can be and how light in touch it really is. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Father Flynn, the priest at a Catholic school in 1964. The school's first and only black student has been successfully attending and enjoying his position as an altar boy. But after an unseen incident, the young Sister James (Amy Adams) begins to suspect that there might have been some inappropriate advances. She reports her fears to the school's principal, Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep, with a New York accent). Flynn tries to defend himself, and Sister James comes to believe him, but Sister Aloysius is determined to take him down. Playwright John Patrick Shanley adapted his play and directed -- his first job behind the camera since his quirky, hilarious, drastically under-appreciated Joe vs. the Volcano (1990) -- and he has broadened the play but refuses to offer explanations. We have to form our own opinion based on contrary arguments. Shanley stays close on his three brilliant performers (plus a fourth, Viola Davis, as the boy's mother), getting big moments out of them, but also reveling in the pauses between moments. He somehow manages to adapt the Sister James character to Amy Adams' unique screen persona; she's absolutely marvelous! The great cinematographer Roger Deakins captures the essence of the school, the wind and snow, the sturdy old wooden doors, the holiday lights, the metal lockers, and Shanley has the sensibility to slow down from time to time for these luscious details. If only the swift, snappy humor could have lasted into the third act, but the emotional thrust is still there, and Doubt is a fascinating picture.

DVD Details: Miramax's 2009 DVD release comes with a commentary track by Shanley, and four featurettes that total about 45 minutes. We also get language and subtitle options, and trailers. And maybe it's just me, but this DVD also has really beautiful menus. Kudos to the desginer!

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