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DOUBT, 2008
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DOUBT
Movie Review
Directed by John Patrick Shanley
Starring: Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams
Review by Matthew Toffolo


SYNOPSIS:

Set in 1964, Doubt centers on a nun who confronts a priest after suspecting him abusing a black student. He denies the charges, and much of the play's quick-fire dialogue tackles themes of religion, morality and authority.

REVIEW:

Doubt is an exceptional movie and is one of my favorite films of 2008.

Director John Patrick Shanley has learned a lot in the 18 years between directing jobs. Fresh off his Oscar Win for writing Moonstruck in 1988, Shanley got the chance to direct one of his own scripts and made Joe vs the Volcano, a flop that starred Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. It was an ambitious film that could of been a classic but it slid down to becoming a complete and utter failure. I don't know the specifics, but it seems that Shanley could of been a bit over his head.

With Doubt, Shanley adapted his successful broadway play into a movie but still kept that theater spirit alive. A tough thing to do. Doubt's two biggest scenes are an 18 minute dialogue exchange between the two lead Nuns, Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep) and Sister James (Amy Adams) and the Father Brendan Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) that begins the second act and then a 12 minute scene between Streep and Hoffman that is our climax. Both scenes are in just one room, Sister Beauvier's office. 30 minutes of screen time in a Nun's office! Nun's offices aren't usually the most exciting places to be, are they?

So why does Doubt work so well?

We go to the movies to witness a cinematic experience as we generally don't want to watch two people talking in a room. We want action and movement with the characters we follow. And 99.9% of the time, the climax to a movie doesn't involve people talking out their conflicts. Our main characters, just like our own life usually, deal with their conflicts by making a choice and then reacting to that choice they make. Not yapping at someone about your feelings.

Doubt works because it's a perfectly executed movie. Shanley and his producer hired all the right people to help him pull off the play to movie adaptation without a hitch.

The most important collaborator of Doubt was probably Director of Photography Roger Deakins. Deakins is a master cinematographer who has worked on many Hollywood productions. He's mainly known for his work with the Coen Brothers, as he's DP'd most of their films, including last years Oscar winner No Country for Old Men. Deakins brings the 1964 New York Catholic Church to life. He knew exactly where to put the camera to keep the audiences interested so Shanley and editor Dylan Tichenor could pace the film to its ultimate climax.

Speaking of editing, Doubt is a remarkably edited movie. If you're a filmmaker, you understand how difficult it is cutting two people talking without boring the audience. This is a film that's all about what's not being said with our main characters and the editor needs to understand all of the 100,000 emotional beats in this film and understand when to cut and not to cut from actor to actor. Dylan Tichenor is Paul Thomas Anderson's editor as he's cut all of his films. Tichenor and Anderson have a brotherly relationship and P.T. trusts him like no other collaborator he works with.

No matter how great the acting is (and it's amazing) or how nicely shot and edited a film is, it's the art direction that brings a movie to life. Art Direction sets up the overall tone and theme of the story, and if done wrong, then the movie with subconsciously fails and you won't even know why. Great Art Director lets you smell and feel the movie without having to move a finger. Doubt puts you right into the world of what it is to be Catholic. Production Designer David Gropman has made it a career (The Cider House Rules, Chocolat, A Walk in the Clouds, Of Mice in Men etc..) working on films with a small setting and making that world very large for the audience. Brilliant job in Doubt.

So Shanley brings together what is perhaps the three brightest minds working in film today as his main collaborators. This is what you call getting the job done. You want your play turned into a movie, you just hire the main collaborators for the top filmmakers working today.

But we can't forget the acting in Doubt because it's extraordinary. It's a cliche now to talk about how great an actor Meryl Streep is, but Meryl Streep is a great actor. She make things look so easy. The role of Sister Aloysius Beauvier is an impossible role for an actor to play. It's such a complex character and it's that line the actor must carefully walk on where the audience fears her and likes her at the same time. I hate doing this because acting is such a subjective art, but Streep's performance in Doubt is the best performance I've seen since Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood.

Then there's Philip Seymour Hoffman, another great actor working today. Doubt is what you call an all-star team movie. Every major above-the-line position in the film are the best of the best.

The theme of Doubt is Doubt. What does doubt mean really? We all have it and we all can relate to that feeling. For me it's when I'm not feeling outwardly enough to trust my instincts on a subject. I'm unsure. And being unsure is when I get insecure and then I'm not at my best.

The dictionary defines doubt like this:
1. to be uncertain about; consider questionable or unlikely; hesitate to believe.
2. to distrust.
3. Archaic. to fear; be apprehensive about.

Doubt is a dangerous emotion but it can also lead you down the path of integrity if you really battle it. What makes doubt dangerous for me is that if you don't deal with it, then it can destroy a part of your soul and other's souls around you.

And putting a movie about this very polarizing and captivating emotion inside of a Catholic church is what you call a masterstroke!

This is a film I hope everyone sees. I love this movie the more I think about it. And this is also a movie that won't be dated. Us humans are in such a primal stage in our evolution, this movie will probably be relatable for people 200 years from now.


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