Thursday, June 10, 2010
DOUBT (2008). Written and directed by John Patrick Shanley, from his play.
Sister Beauvier (Meryl Streep) , the principal of the St. Nicholas School in the Bronx in 1964, is convinced -- without solid evidence -- that Father Brendan Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is having an inappropriate relationship with the school's only black student, Donald Miller (Joseph Foster). Beauvier is a bit taken aback -- and appalled -- when the boy's mother (Viola Davis) doesn't even seem to care that much, because she also thinks her son is "that way;" apparently she, like many people back then and even today, sees little difference between homosexuality and pedophilia. The question is: is Flynn a child molester (assuming anything inappropriate actually took place between him and the boy) or does the guilty way he acts have more to do with the possibility that he is simply gay and deeply ashamed of it (as a priest today might be, let alone in 1964)? Flynn may have sensed that Donald was also homosexual (although the boy betrays no outwardly stereotypical signs) and been drawn to him out of sympathy -- not sexuality. Of course the irony is that Sister Beauvier would never have appreciated or cared about the difference. It's the acting by Streep, Hoffman and Davis -- as well as Amy Adams as Sister James -- that keep this very absorbing picture humming, but it also has a multi-faceted [if imperfect] screenplay by Shanley, touching upon everything from child molestation and gay [not pedophile] priests to the sexist patriarchy of the church and its condescending attitude toward the sisters and indeed all women. Streep at times seems a little one-dimensionally villainous, but her performance is certainly vivid; Hoffman and Davis are superb.
Verdict: Flawed, perhaps, but also intriguing and worthwhile. ***1/2.