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Laramie Movie Scope: Doubt

The priest and the Judge Judy nun

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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January 4, 2009 -- Set in the 1960's, this high-powered drama set in a Catholic church and school has the best ensemble acting performance of any film I saw in 2008. You expect excellent performances from Academy Award-winning actors Meryl Streep and Philip Seymore Hoffman, as well as Academy Award nominee Amy Adams, one of the best young actresses working today, but you get a bonus in this film, an Oscar-worthy supporting performance by Viola Davis (who plays Molly Crane in the “Jesse Stone” TV movies). Davis appears in one scene only, but more than holds her ground against the formidable Streep in the movie's most intense emotional scene.

The story depicts a Catholic priest, Father Brendan Flynn (Hoffman), who seems to be getting a little too friendly with one of the students. The strict Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Streep) is sure some hanky panky is going on, proof or not. Young nun Sister James (Adams) also has her suspicions, but there is no real proof to support their suspicions. Sister Aloysius (Streep) is determined to expel Father Flynn from her school (she is the principal) and from the church, by any means necessary. Sister James has her doubts about the whole matter, but finally decides she believes Father Flynn. She confronts Sister Aloysius about this. Father Flynn confronts Sister Aloysius as well, but she will not be moved. Sister Aloysius also confronts the mother of the boy in question, Mrs. Miller (Davis) and encounters resistance for a reason she could not have imagined.

The conclusion of the story seems a bit weak after all these emotional fireworks. Rather than a full-scale nuclear confrontation between these two tough opponents, the story ends with a whimper. There is also no answer to the film's central question, and that is the whole point of a film called “doubt” of course. Still it just compounds the problem of the lack of satisfactory confrontation. Although the film is based on a play, it doesn't look like a play, thanks to a fine screenplay by writer-director John Patrick Shanley (who also wrote the play). Shanley has enough scenes outside the church and the school to alleviate the usual play-based claustrophobia. He also takes advantage of film's ability to show fantasy-like story sequences to expand the narrative in ways that make it seem less like a play. While the story may lack a knockout punch in the final round, you won't see four better performances than this is any other 2008 film, and there were a lot of good performances in a lot of good films in 2008. A final scene between Sister Aloysius and Sister James is a surprise. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2009 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)