Doubt, which recently sailed into movie theatres, seems to suffer from an existentialist crisis: who am I?
It has faults, likely because the same person who authored the play also directed the film. Should someone else have directed Doubt for the cinema? Yes, without hesitation. Shanley is likely too married to the idea of Doubt as a play to effectively adapt it to the big screen. The movie’s uniformly flat tones, its monotonous shades of gray and the restrained misery that Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) cultivates among her church and boarding school community make for less than riveting storytelling on the big screen.
Set in 1960s Bronx, Doubt is about what happens to a church when the pastor is accused of molesting students. Brendan Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) lavishes his affections on one pupil in particular. Aloysius gets wind of the priest’s potential indiscretions and focuses all her efforts into exposing them. The story in itself is, to be sure, very interesting. The church is supposed to be above all suspicions, of course, and sexual wickedness makes great fodder for storytelling. But Doubt doesn’t offer any resolution. Shanley never quite concludes for us whether Flynn is in fact guilty or not.
There are no embarrassing incidents of getting caught in flagrante delicto, so to speak, and the illusion of wrongdoing, on which basis this plot sputters along, hems and haws without leading to any satisfactory ending. Ah, the ending. Another matter entirely. Pages and pages of film criticism dialectic should be devoted to bad endings in cinema. Why do they keep appearing with such dependable frequency?
A perfectly fine movie leading to a preposterous ending. If only Doubt at least qualified for the former, the latter, a fait accompli, would not seem so calamitous. But since SCREEN COMMENT does not spoil endings, we shall continue in the tradition. And the acting, you ask? Amy Adams and Philip Seymour Hoffman are terrific, rather as predictable and predicted. Meryl Streep on the other hand was perhaps not suited for the role.
Her Sister Aloysius is reduced to a snarling guignol. But in spite of this writer’s opinion, readers who haven’t already done so are encouraged to see Doubt, if only for the performances of Ms. Adams and Mr. Hoffman (see also Kevin Bowen’s review)