Friday, March 20, 2009



  • Released Internationally on 25/12/08
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 18/03/09

In a nutshell

Fr. Flynn is a charismatic, progressive young priest in a small Catholic parish in the Bronx, New York. He also teaches in the attached Catholic school, which is run by the Sisters of Charity of New York, under the iron fist of Sister Aloysius. She becomes convinced that he has abused a vulnerable boy in the school, and despite not having any evidence or witnesses she sets out to bring him down.

Cloistered habits

Adapted from the Pulitzer-prize winning play Doubt: A Parable, this film is predictably short on the action front, but more than makes up for it with its sharp dialogue and powerful performances. Set nearly entirely between the four walls of the church and school, the story is built around four or five key sequences, including two wonderfully orchestrated confrontations between Fr. Flynn and Sr. Aloysius. The dark corridors of the nunnery, the grey skies seen through the occasional window, and the dark, oppressive bonnets worn by all the nuns help to add to the sense of starkness and piety. The sparse score by Howard Shore (The Lord of the Rings) and the occasional Christmas hymn complete the effect.

Mother superior

The great Meryl Streep, unrecognizable as the care-free woman who danced and sang her way through Mamma Mia! only last summer, is terrifying as Sister Aloysius. With a name that conjures up a few memories of similar characters from my own school years, she is utterly believable as the one thing all her students, and colleagues, are afraid of. Once she has her own certainty of Fr. Flynn’s wrongdoing, she will stop at nothing in the pursuit of virtue, even if it means “taking a step away from God”.

“The dragon is hungry”

Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote, Magnolia) is equally impressive as Fr. Flynn. Whether standing at his pulpit, or mingling with his students, he draws us in, getting us on his side against this monster everyone should be terrified of. This is the beauty of the story – the characters’ doubts become our own, and from scene to scene we must re-evaluate what we have seen and heard to try and reach our own conclusion, and take sides.

Not so minor roles

Amy Adams (Enchanted, Charlie Wilson’s War) is Sister James, a young, naive nun who dutifully obeys Sister Aloysius’ command to be on the lookout, but who after reporting some oddities is then repulsed by the huge chaos she has created. And rounding off the four main characters is Viola Davis (Syriana, Disturbia) as the mother of the boy in question. Not since Judi Dench in Shakespeare in Love has so much praise and attention been given to such a brief role – she only has one speaking seen and a few more seconds on screen. But she turns everything inside out by defying Sister Aloysius and, incredibly at first, not giving the reaction one would expect from a mother. Her impassioned plea is startling, yet possibly the wisest of all the conflicting views, and her role is as pivotal as the other three.

In the end

John Patrick Shanley, who wrote the play, has adapted it for the screen himself, and also directs. He fleshes it out with a few mood-setting outdoor scenes and some background characters, but ultimately it’s his writing when the four main characters face-off that makes the film. Small in scope, and essentially just a detailed study of four different reactions to one dubious occurrence, this is a film that should get you thinking and taking sides, whether you’re a firm believer, a non-believer, or someone with doubts.


Trailer: (High-res Quicktime)

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