by Betty Jo Tucker
Some of my best friends are nuns, which may partially account for my unfavorable reactions to Doubt, a movie receiving almost universal acclaim. While I canвЂ™t fault the powerful performance given by Meryl Streep as uber-strict Sister Aloysius Beauvier, I have trouble with the filmвЂ™s depiction of nuns, and IвЂ™m still shaking my head over the implausible way the film ends. It reminded me of the old joke aboutВ finding out that — like Santa Claus — the Devil is your old man.
Comedies often get away with farfetched notions, but effective dramas need to be anchored in reality. Although Doubt projects a realistic setting —В a 1964 Catholic school in the Bronx — the plot soon becomes a series of improbable conversations about whether or not Father Flynn (the always impressive Philip Seymour Hoffman) has abused new student Donald Miller (Joseph Foster), who just happens to be the schoolвЂ™s only black student.
When the usually cheerfulВ Sister James (Amy Adams) tells Sister Aloysius (Streep) —В her authoritarian principal who makes Attila the Hun look like a sissy — thatВ Donald wasВ called out of her class by Father Flynn, the nunsвЂ™ investigation (witch hunt?) begins.В After all, Sister Aloysius has been worried about the priest for quite some time because of his вЂњnewfangled ideas.вЂќВ SheвЂ™s concerned about his sermon topics, his plans to secularize the Christmas pageant and his overly friendly attitude toward students and their parents. All this convinces Sister Aloysius of Father FlynnвЂ™s guilt, so she recruits the gullible Sister James — В who still harbors doubt over the priestвЂ™s guilt — as a spy. She also talks with DonaldвЂ™s mother (Viola Davis), hoping to involve her in plans to get rid of Flynn. This conversation emerges as one of the most hard-to-believe interactions in Doubt, for IВ seriously doubtВ any caring mother would choose to ignore child abuse, or the accusation of such behavior —В no matter what the reason.
Is Father Flynn innocent? Not according to Sister Aloysius. She needs no proof other than her own convictions. During her questioning of the priest about his relationship with Donald, the persistent nun also inquires about his past. At this point, the truth seems elusive to viewers, a fact that remains unchanged throughout the film.
On the plus side, director/screenwriter John Patrick Stanley succeeds in giving his popular play a great вЂњmovie look.вЂќ He opens up the action and, thanks to cinematographer Roger Deakins, includes В visual techniques that enhance the film considerably. So many times, movies made from theatrical productions come across as too stagy, but Doubt boasts an excellent cinematic presentation. How I wish the movieвЂ™s handling of its subject matter matched its outstanding production values!
With serious pedophilia issues facing the Catholic Church now, I find it difficult to appreciate a film in which the nuns are the ones who come across so negatively.
(Released by Miramax Films and rated вЂњPG-13вЂќ for thematic material.)
Betty Jo Tucker is a member of the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the San Diego Film Critics Society (SDFCS). SheВ teaches an online class, вЂњThe Reel Deal: Writing about MoviesвЂќ for the LSS School of Writing and has published three movie-related books including CONFESSIONS OF A MOVIE ADDICT, an amusing memoir about her life at the movies. Betty Jo serves as the editor/lead film critic for ReelTalk Movie Reviews and hosts a weekly radio show, вЂњMovie Addict Headquarters,вЂќ for BlogTalkRadio. She also writes monthly film commentary for the Colorado Senior Beacon.В For more information, please go to www.BettyJoTucker.com