John Patrick Shanley wrote and directed “Doubt,” based on his Pulitzer Prize-winning play. In the film, Father Brendan Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) befriends the first black student at a Catholic school in the Bronx in 1964. After the student gets in trouble for drinking altar wine, Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep) has her suspicions about the charismatic Flynn.
Sister Aloysius runs the school with a strict adherence to rules and propriety; Father Flynn is in favor of loosening up some stodgy mores. The two were in conflict before Sister Aloysius’s suspicions. She can’t abide that Father Flynn insists on using a ball-point pen, for example. But after her suspicions are aroused, the situation worsens.
Sister James (Amy Adams) first noticed the alcohol on her student’s breath, but she doesn’t want to suspect Father Flynn of taking advantage of the boy. Sister Aloysius, however, is certain, and begins a campaign to ferret out the truth.
Viola Davis has an excellent supporting role as the student’s mother. But the acting in “Doubt” is fine throughout. Streep could receive yet another Oscar nomination. Hoffman moves the audience in and out of his corner, never letting the viewer get a firm handle on his guilt or innocence.
Shanley, who wrote 1987′s “Moonstruck” but hasn’t directed a film since 1990′s “Joe Versus the Volcano,” isn’t without his flaws in “Doubt.” And some will be frustrated by the film’s lack of definitive answers. But what is accomplished in the film is provoking a lot of questions: about tradition, religion, and sexual politics, among others. But ultimately, there are no easy answers given – only doubt.
- Matthew Price
3 ½ stars
Starring: Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Viola Davis, Amy Adams
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