Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Faith and doubt

I recently got around to watching Doubt, the onscreen drama starring Meryl Streep, Amy Adams and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Wow. It was not as dark a movie as I had feared, performances are uniformly astonishing and the film keeps you second-guessing (which, I imagine, is the point).

Inevitably, Streep is the star of this film. The legendary actress plays Sister Aloysius Beauvier, a nun who serves as the principal at a Catholic school in the Bronx. The year is 1964, and the school has just admitted its first black student (Donald, played by Joseph Foster) in the fall. There's a charismatic new priest in St. Nicholas parish - Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Father Flynn often finds himself at odds with Sister Aloysius' strict ways with the schoolchildren and her faith.

So when young, naive Sister James (Amy Adams) mentions to Sister Aloysius that Father Flynn may have taken a bit too much interest in Donald, Sister Aloysius becomes certain that the relationship has developed into something improper.

Without proof, the two nuns confront Father Flynn, who defends his actions. Undaunted, Sister Aloysius schedules a meeting with Donald's mother (played with heartbreaking genius by Viola Davis). The woman, who is dealing with her own suspicions about Donald's nature as well as violence in the home, provides Sister Aloysius with no method through which to exercise her moral certainty.

As Sister Aloysius becomes more and more definite in her efforts to oust Father Flynn, questions of faith and doubt emerge in stark relief.

What can I say about this movie? Meryl Streep is a goddess, and anyone who denies it is a fool. The woman is Proteus-like in her ability to inhabit any character with utter credibility. It completely blows my mind. Adams and Hoffman aren't slouches, either, but Streep owns this movie.

Though the story line isn't a happy one, rest assured that the film focuses on Sister Aloysius and her quest. The film purposefully neither confirms nor denies the suspected relationship between the priest and the boy, leaving the viewer to wonder if the nun's conviction has any truth.

A fascinating character study. Worth watching for the performances alone, although the film's morla statement about "innocent until proven guilty" does make one think.

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