Location: Los Angeles, California

Thursday, November 20, 2008

No Doubt About It

John Patrick Shanley's Doubt is one of the year's best films. It's an expertly constructed movie in which every moment feels necessary, and it has the wisdom to realize that what's on the screen is enough. This kind of material could have very easily been pushed into messy melodrama, but Shanley holds back, which shifts the focus of the movie from the plot's actions to the characters' moral compasses.

It must be noted that I have not seen Shanley's play, and I imagine that those who have seen it will approach the movie with a "been there, done that" attitude. From what I've been told, the movie is very faithful to the play, so I imagine the play's admirers will not get much more out of the film apart from analyzing how the actors' performances differ.

But, having not seen the play, I can say one important thing: Doubt works as a movie. At no point did I feel like I was watching the mere cinematic adaptation of a play. This movie moves and breathes on its own terms. It's by no means a large production in terms of the amount of characters or number of sets, but the complexity of the issues it deals with makes it an expansive work.

The acting is sublime. Again, I cannot compare Streep's take on Sister Aloysius Beauvier to the one by Cherry Jones. I'm sure they're different, but different is not necessarily a negative thing. Streep makes Beauvier an utterly believable character -- one that I am certain existed in the film's 1960s era, and the sort of person I know to still exist today.

Philip Seymour Hoffman can do no wrong, nor can Amy Adams. And Viola Davis nails her small but vital part. I wish we saw more of her.

I will not get into the film's plot, nor its characters' ambiguities. I dare not rob you of the movie's unexpected power. Doubt will hit you hard, and that it accomplishes that by doing so little is the best compliment I could give it.


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