Friday, January 16, 2009

No Doubt About It: A Great Movie

Doubt is not your standard Hollywood movie. No chase scenes; no sex; no satisfying resolution at the end. In fact, were it not for its two big stars, Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman, it's hard to imagine this movie even getting distributed.

But not because of a lack of quality. The movie is like life -- complex; without easy answers. It is set in 1964. A Roman Catholic parochial school in New York has its first black student. The principal of the school (Streep) thinks the priest (Hoffman)is paying special attention to the black kid. There is no question that he is; the question is his motivation. The principal is convinced he is a sexual predator; the priest denies it. Both have mortal sins in their past. In the middle are the student and an idealistic young nun, played by Amy Adams. Although the priest is nominally the principal's superior, she is determined to run him out of the parish, and she uses some underhanded tactics to accomplish her goal. But is her motivation only her concern for the student, or is it that the priest doesn't measure up to her strict conservative standards of religiosity? And is she helping or hurting the student? The student's mother is willing to overlook the allegations because of the alternatives for the student.

The movie was written and directed by John Patrick Shanley (who wrote and directed Moonstruck and Joe Versus the Volcano 20 years ago. Shanley also wrote the play version, which in 2005 won a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award for its Broadway production. He dedicates the movie to his own first grade teacher on whom the Amy Adams character is modeled.

I hope I am not getting too generous in my old age, but I have to give this movie five stars, the second movie in two weeks to get my highest rating. Shanley, Streep and Hoffman all deserve Oscars for it, but I doubt that they will get them because this just isn't the type of movie that Hollywood likes. Gran Torino is more likely to win Academy Awards, in my opinion, because it has a Hollywood ending. Doubt has more nuance; maybe too much nuance for some tastes. Maybe the Academy will surprise me. I have been surprised before.


forsythia said...

On the basis of your reviews, I've ordered this one and Gran Torino from Netflix. I like the plot summaries, too. Helps us old folks who sometimes doze off in the middle. Used to be just my husband who did that, and he'd wake up later and want me to clue him in. Now the two of us are doing that, and now we're both clueless.

Catch Her in the Wry said...

I knew you'd like it! Turning plays into movies often times doesn't work. It did this time.